Israeli scientists have built a biological computer using only biomolecules like enzymes and DNA.
Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have created a molecular transducer – an advanced computing machine – built entirely of biomolecules that can manipulate genetic codes.
The device can compute iteratively, meaning it uses the output as a new input for subsequent computations, and it produces outputs in the form of biologically meaningful phenomena, such as resistance of bacteria to various antibiotics.
The team has demonstrated that their transducer can perform a long division of binary numbers by three and performed an iterative computation, as reported in journal Chemistry & Biology.
“The ever-increasing interest in biomolecular computing devices has not arisen from the hope that such machines could ever compete with their electronic counterparts by offering greater computation speed, fidelity and power or performance in traditional computing tasks”, explains Professor Ehud Keinan of the Technion Schulich Faculty of Chemistry.
“The main advantages of biomolecular computing devices over the electronic computers arise from other properties. As shown in this work and other projects carried out in our lab, these systems can interact directly with biological systems and even with living organisms. No interface is required since all components of molecular computers, including hardware, software, input and output, are molecules that interact in solution along a cascade of programmable chemical events.”
The study was carried out by Keinan, postdoctoral fellows Dr Tamar Ratner and Dr Ron Piran also of the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, and Dr Natasha Jonoska of the department of Mathematics at the University of South Florida.
The transducer could be used on genetic material to evaluate and detect specific sequences, and to “alter and algorithmically process” genetic code, according to Keinan, which could have applications in biotechnology and especially individual gene therapy and cloning.
“All biological systems, and even entire living organisms, are natural molecular computers,” adds Keinan.
“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.
“Our results are significant because they demonstrate for the first time a synthetic designed computing machine that not only computes iteratively, but also produces biologically relevant results.
“Although this transducer was employed to solve a specific problem, the general methodology shows that similar devices could be applied for other computational problems.
“In addition to its enhanced computation power, this DNA-based transducer offers multiple benefits, such as the ability to read and transform genetic information, miniaturization to the molecular scale, and the aptitude to produce computational results, which interact directly with living organisms.”