Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Water drop holds a trillion computers

22.11.2001


Devices with DNA software may one day be fitted into cells.


DNA has problem-solving power.



"If you wear the right glasses, a lot of what you see inside the cell is computation," says Ehud Shapiro of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. Now Shapiro and his colleagues have turned the computational power of biological molecules to their own ends1.

The researchers have built a machine that solves mathematical problems using DNA as software and enzymes as hardware. A trillion such biomolecular machines - working at more than 99.8% accuracy - can fit into a drop of water.


Computers with DNA input and output have been made before, but they involved a laborious series of reactions, each needing human supervision. The new automaton requires only the right molecular mix.

It’s too early to say whether biomolecular nanomachines will ever become practical. Optimists, including the new machine’s inventors, envision them screening libraries of DNA sequences, or even lurking inside cells where they would watch for trouble or synthesize drugs.

The new invention is "an interesting proof of principle", says Martyn Amos, a bioinformatics researcher at the University of Liverpool, UK. Amos questions whether molecular automata could ever do anything complex enough to be useful, but thinks they may find applications inside cells.

"DNA computing needs to establish its own niche, and I don’t think that lies in competing with traditional silicon devices," says Amos. Biological computers would be better suited to biological problems, such as sensors within organisms or drug delivery, he believes.

"In 10 years this sort of computational device may be yielding applications that people pay money for," Amos says.

Already Shapiro has patented a design for a molecular computer that can perform any calculation. "If you look at the mechanisms of a cell, you could easily create a universal computer," he says. "We don’t need to teach the cell new tricks, we just need to put the existing tricks together in the right order."

Cut and paste

The new molecular computer’s input is a DNA strand. Its letters represent a string of binary symbols - ones and zeroes. The machine answers questions such as whether the input contains an even number of ones.

The computer’s hardware is two enzymes. One cuts the DNA strands when it recognizes a specific sequence of letters, another sticks DNA snippets back together again. The cutting enzyme makes incisions a few bases shy of its ’recognition sequence’. So its cuts create a range of different DNA molecules, depending on what surrounds the recognition site.

The researchers program each problem by designing DNA software molecules that bind only to a subset of the slices of input DNA. Each software molecule contains a recognition site for the cutting enzyme, and some other DNA letters that determine where on the shortened input molecule the next cut occurs.

The enzymes chomp their way along an input molecule until the calculation is complete - like an early computer processing data encoded on a paper tape. Finally, the joining enzyme attaches one of two output DNA molecules, ending the sequence of reactions and representing the answer to the initial question - yes or no, for example.

"It works better than anything I’ve seen, by far," comments Eric Baum, a computer scientist at the NEC Research Institute, Princeton, New Jersey. Baum is sceptical whether DNA computers will ever become useful. "But this is a step in the right direction," he says.

References

  1. Benenson, Y. et al. Programmable and autonomous computing machine made of biomolecules. Nature, 414, 430 - 434, (2001).

JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service
Further information:
http://www.nature.com/nsu/011122/011122-11.html

More articles from Information Technology:

nachricht Optical fiber transmits one terabit per second – Novel modulation approach
16.09.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Researchers prototype system for reading closed books
09.09.2016 | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

All articles from Information Technology >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: OLED microdisplays in data glasses for improved human-machine interaction

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.

“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...

Im Focus: Artificial Intelligence Helps in the Discovery of New Materials

With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.

Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...

Im Focus: Complex hardmetal tools out of the 3D printer

For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.

Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...

Im Focus: Launch of New Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing

At AKL’16, the International Laser Technology Congress held in May this year, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings and feasibility.

In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques – from USP ablation and additive...

Im Focus: New laser joining technologies at ‘K 2016’ trade fair

Every three years, the plastics industry gathers at K, the international trade fair for plastics and rubber in Düsseldorf. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will also be attending again and presenting many innovative technologies, such as for joining plastics and metals using ultrashort pulse lasers. From October 19 to 26, you can find the Fraunhofer ILT at the joint Fraunhofer booth SC01 in Hall 7.

K is the world’s largest trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. As in previous years, the organizers are expecting 3,000 exhibitors and more than...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Experts from industry and academia discuss the future mobile telecommunications standard 5G

23.09.2016 | Event News

ICPE in Graz for the seventh time

20.09.2016 | Event News

Using mathematical models to understand our brain

16.09.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

New leukemia treatment offers hope

23.09.2016 | Health and Medicine

Self-assembled nanostructures hit their target

23.09.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>