Biological Computer: Future of Computing

The biological system works with better coordination and thereby, give scientists  a constant hope and trigger to  work towards innovative ideas. Humans being the most intelligible creatures on the planet, who have invented almost everything that exists today still, has to unlock the wide potentialities the human body or the living creatures has to offer themselves.

Cells are the building blocks of a human body. Cells contain and store information and behave in response to the programmed stimuli.  In giving such response they act with astonishing speed. Given, such enormous capacity of a cell, scientists have been engaged in the process of using cells to make computers. Researchers at MIT has taken a step towards realizing this goal. Focus is on building cellular machines that can perform simple computational operations and store them in the form of memory.

The MIT researchers are trying to apply the idea of a state machine to a living cell with new found techniques in genetic engineering. The DNA genome provides the necessary functionalities, however, the real task is to perform those functions correctly. MIT researchers are using e.coli bacteria, that is designed with specifically arranged, ‘targeted sequence’ spaced carefully throughout the genome. When scientists provide a specific combination of chemical signal, leads the cell to release “recombinase.” It’s an enzyme that can invert the orientation of a pre-programmed stretch of DNA, or remove it entirely. It’s the action of these recombinase enzymes, and their interaction with the short target sequences, that allow all-new abilities in cellular computing.

These biological systems reveal the different level of computing and vary from the machine computing. Tom Knight, a researcher at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and one of the leaders in the biocomputing movement said, “It is a mistake to envision the kind of computation that we are envisioning for living cells as being a replacement for the kinds of computers that we have now.” Knight says these new computers “will be a way of bridging the gap to the chemical world. Think of it more as a process-control computer. The computer that is running a chemical factory. The computer that makes your beer for you.”

Biocomputing is extremely cost effective. Once a single cell has been programmed, one can grow billions out of it, at the cost of simple nutrient solutions and a lab technician’s time. It is much reliable over mechanical computers. This is possible for the reason that, biocomputers just like our brain can still perform its function despite thousands of cells being worn out. While mechanical computing halts even if a single wire breaks down.

Though biocomputing at the nexus of IT and life sciences, is years away to come into reality, the research is definitely a milestone in biotechnology.



Shobith MAKAM Written by:

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