Revolutionary Programmable Computer Made From DNA Using Chemical Software / Boing Boing


For more than two decades, researchers have explored the use of DNA as a chemical computer. Until now, DNA computers were only able to solve the mathematical problem for which they had been designed. But now researchers have developed a more versatile DNA computer that can handle various chemical "programs". From Caltech:

"Think of them as nano apps," says Damien Woods, a computer professor at Maynooth University near Dublin, Ireland, and one of the two leading authors of the Nano apps. ;study. "The ability to run any kind of software without having to change the hardware is what made computers so useful, we are implementing this idea into molecules, essentially incorporating an algorithm in chemistry to control chemical processes."

The system works by self-assembly: specially designed small strands of DNA are assembled to form a logic circuit while executing the circuit algorithm. Starting with the six original bits that represent the input, the system adds line by line of molecules and progressively executes the algorithm. Modern digital electronic computers use electricity crossing circuits to manipulate information; here, the rows of DNA strands glued together perform the calculation. The end result is a test tube filled with billions of complete algorithms, each resembling a knitted DNA scarf, representing a reading of the calculation. The pattern on each "scarf" gives you the solution to the algorithm you used. The system can be reprogrammed to execute a different algorithm simply by selecting a different subset of strands out of about 700 constituting the system.

IEEE spectrum:

The new system, consisting only of DNA and salt water, will not find itself a technological application. But this is a step towards the development of self-assembling programmable material, where chemical software automatically directs the construction of materials with complex functions at the nanometer scale. Its creators "were trying to understand how to integrate computer behaviors into chemistry to control what chemistry does," says Erik Winfree, a professor of computer science and bioengineering who led the research, chiefly at Caltech.

More: "Diverse and Robust Molecular Algorithms Using Reprogrammable DNA Self-assembly" (Nature)

Completed DNA algorithms:

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David Pescovitz

David Pescovitz is the co-publisher of Boing Boing. On Instagram he is @pesco.



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