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Breakthrough programmable computer made from DNA running chemical software / Boing Boing



For more than two decades, researchers have explored the use of DNA as a chemical computer. So far, DNA computers have only been able to solve the mathematical problem they were built to solve. Now, however, researchers have demonstrated a more generalized DNA computer that can run a variety of chemical "programs". From Caltech:

"Think of them as nano apps," says Damien Woods, professor of computer science at Maynooth University near Dublin, Ireland, and one of two leading authors of the study. "The ability to run any software program without changing hardware is what allowed computers to become so useful. We implement this idea into molecules that essentially embed a chemistry algorithm to control chemical processes."

The system works by self-assembly: Small, specially designed DNA strands stick together to build a logic circuit and at the same time perform the circuit algorithm. Beginning with the original six bits representing the input, the system adds the row by row of molecules ̵

1; which continuously runs the algorithm. Modern digital electronic computers use electricity flowing through circuits to manipulate information; Here, rows of DNA strings stretch together, perform the calculation. The end result is a test tube filled with billions of finished algorithms, each resembling a knitted scarf of DNA representing a reading of the calculation. The pattern of each "scarf" gives you the solution to the algorithm you ran. The system can be reprogrammed to run another algorithm by simply selecting another subset of threads from the approximately 700 constituting the system.

From IEEE Spectrum:

The new system, made only of DNA and saline, is unlikely to find a technological application itself. But it is a step towards developing self-assembling programmable materials where chemical software automatically controls the construction of materials with complex, programmable nanometer scale properties. Its creators were "trying to understand how to embed computational behavior in chemistry to control what chemistry does," explains Erik Winfree, professor of computer science and biotechnology, who led the research, which was mostly conducted at Caltech.

More: "Various and robust molecular algorithms using reprogrammable DNA self-assembly" (Nature)

Completed DNA algorithms:

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David Pescovitz

David Pescovitz is Boing Boing's co-editor. On Instagram he is @pesco.

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