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Biological computing devices not far off

Scientists have managed to construct some of the basic components for digital devices out of gut bacteria and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a development that could lead to microscopic biological computers.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the team from Imperial C...
Biological computing devices not far off
Scientists have managed to construct some of the basic components for digital devices out of gut bacteria and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), a development that could lead to microscopic biological computers.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the team from Imperial College London in the United Kingdom explain how they developed advanced biological 'logic gates', the information processor in computers and microprocessors, out of harmless bacteria from the human gut and DNA.

This latest study builds on previous research which only proved that biological logic gates could be made, but now the team has actually managed to build them.

One of the study authors, Professor Richard Kitney from Imperial College London, says: 'Logic gates are the fundamental building blocks in silicon circuitry that our entire digital age is based on. Without them, we could not process digital information. Now that we have demonstrated that we can replicate these parts using bacteria and DNA, we hope that our work could lead to a new generation of biological processors, whose applications in information processing could be as important as their electronic equivalents.'

This means that these latest scientific developments could lead to sensors that swim inside arteries and detect the build up of harmful plaque in order to quickly deliver medication to the affected area. Other applications could include sensors that can detect and destroy cancer cells inside the body and pollution monitors that can be deployed in the environment, detecting and neutralising dangerous toxins such as arsenic.

The team show how biological logic gates can replicate the way that electronic logic gates process information by either switching themselves 'on' or 'off'. The scientists built a type of logic gate called an 'AND Gate' from Escherichia coli (E. Coli) bacteria which is normally found in the lower intestine. The team altered the E. Coli with modified DNA which reprogrammed it to perform the same switching on and off process as its electronic equivalent when stimulated by chemicals.

Another important feature of these biological logic gates is that they are modular, which means that they can be fitted together to make different types of more complex logic gates in a similar way to how electronic components are made. The researchers created a 'NOT gate' and combined it with the 'AND gate' to produce the more complex 'NAND gate'.

Now the team hopes to continue joining up the dots by linking as many logic gates together as possible to see what innovative solutions they can come up with.

Source: Imperial College London

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Record Number: 33946 / Last updated on: 2011-10-21
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