Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have devised an advanced biological transducer capable of manipulating genetic information and using the output as new input for sequential computations. Their findings serve as a new step forward for current efforts that might one day serve to create new biotech possibilities like individual gene therapy and cloning.
In a sense, all biological beings are walking, breathing computers – biomolecular computers. Each of the countless molecules that comprise our body communicate with one another in a logical manner that can be described and predicted. The input is a molecule that undergoes specific, programmed changes, following a specific set of rules (software) and the output of this chemical computation process is another well defined molecule.
Synthetic biomolecular computer are of great interest to scientists because they offer the possibility of actively manipulating biological systems and even living organisms. The fact that no interface is required makes them extremely appealing, since everything including “hardware”, “software” and information (input and output) are actually molecules that interact with one another in a cascade of programmable chemical events.
“Our results show a novel, synthetic designed computing machine that computes iteratively and produces biologically relevant results,” says lead researcher Prof. Ehud Keinan of the Technion Schulich Faculty of Chemistry. “In addition to enhanced computation power, this DNA-based transducer offers multiple benefits, including the ability to read and transform genetic information, miniaturization to the molecular scale, and the aptitude to produce computational results that interact directly with living organisms.”
The transducer could be used on genetic material to evaluate and detect specific sequences, and to alter and algorithmically process genetic code. Similar devices, says Prof. Keinan, could be applied for other computational problems. Strides in this direction have become ever fruitful, actually. In 2011 researches from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, developed a biomolecular computer that could autonomously sense many different types of molecules simultaneously. Just a few months ago, the first working biological transistor was unveiled by Stanford researchers, allowing computers to function inside living cells, something we’ve been waiting for many years.
“All biological systems, and even entire living organisms, are natural molecular computers. Every one of us is a biomolecular computer, that is, a machine in which all components are molecules “talking” to one another in a logical manner. The hardware and software are complex biological molecules that activate one another to carry out some predetermined chemical tasks. The input is a molecule that undergoes specific, programmed changes, following a specific set of rules (software) and the output of this chemical computation process is another well defined molecule.”