Posting in Science
Duke University researchers are using DNA to create logic chips and predict that soon DNA based circuits will replace silicon chips. The next generation computers might be made with the DNA based chips.
Ned Seeman looked dressed for a hiking trip. While Seeman talked about assembling a computer with DNA, my eyes focused on the random bits of DNA structures collecting dust in his New York University lab.
The structures were sentimental to him. Each one represented monumental moments in his life. The artistic 3D representations of the structures were a collection of all of the important DNA creations Seeman brought into this world. The only thing missing was a biological machine entirely made of DNA, but that's certainly on Seeman's agenda.
After telling me his entire life story of using DNA to create structures, Seeman took me to see where the synthetic DNA is made.
I was underwhelmed. Nothing magical was happening: It was a boring small machine that mixed the base pairs of DNA together. But it held great potential: The DNA machine could create any structure he wanted to.
That's why DNA might soon replace silicon as the perfect computing material. DNA can build itself up from scratch and become anything it wants and self assemble. We can only shrink silicon so much.
So if computer chips were made of DNA, the cost of producing the biological circuits would be much cheaper. The idea is more science fiction than a reality at this point.
He's come a long way since he started in 1991, when he created a complex molecular cube made of two long and eight short pieces of DNA. In 1999, he created a nanomechanical device that moved its arms when chemicals were added.
Recently, Seeman made a small device that “walked” across a DNA “sidewalk.”
Elsewhere, Duke University engineers have figured out a way to use DNA to create logic circuits. Chris Dyer, an electrical and computer engineering professor at the college, said in a statement:
"This is the first demonstration of such an active and rapid processing and sensing capacity at the molecular level," Dwyer said. The results of his experiments were published online in the journal Small. "Conventional technology has reached its physical limits. The ability to cheaply produce virtually unlimited supplies of these tiny circuits seems to me to be the next logical step."
By mixing DNA with other molecules, Dwyer hopes to make billions of waffle structures this way. As it turns out, the "other" molecules is a special light sensitive material — so only light is needed to program the biological circuit. When light hits the light sensitive material, it creates switches (or logic gates).
Dwyer basically says it's like making a jigsaw puzzle. "What we did was to take billions of these puzzle pieces, throwing them together, to form billions of copies of the same puzzle," he adds. The puzzle isn't quite at a billion yet, as Dwyer's puzzle set only contains 16 pieces.
Besides becoming the core of our computers, DNA based logic chips could potentially be the heart of sensors. For instance, the sensors could detect biomarkers in our blood and flag any signs of disease.
But many initial efforts are focused on creating a DNA computer. As I've written in a previous story, IBM researchers are working with DNA's self replicating power to create better computer chips. In Media Post, I wrote:
"Biology is the ultimate manufacturing technology," says MIT computer scientist Tom Knight. If we could replicate devices cheaply, it would change the world, he believes. Biology is reliable and robust. "If you take a laptop and open it up and cut a wire, it will not work anymore. If a person is pricked with a pin, they will not fall over dead. They go on living."
Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil once said, "Our computers aren't going to be these distinct rectangular devices we carry around. We are going to merge with them." I second that.
Image: Chris Dwyer
May 11, 2010
Loved that last comment about computer viruses -- yeah, heh heh -- literally! I wonder where that DNA would come from. Would it be yours or mine, being used without our knowledge? When people give blood or undergo operations, or give DNA unknowingly in any way, it is the case, isn't it. that the law states they can't claim the the rights to their own DNA? I also wonder, if DNA were used, does this mean that cells in the computer could die eventually, or would the DNA somehow be used without allowing the use of cells? (I know nothing about medicine as you can probably clearly see). Somehow all of this reminds me of the anti-christ. I can well see that this type of being could one day really be a mixture of half human/half computer.
This article produces lots more questions. How will these 'computers' interface with us? What is the creator's vision of how we will interact with 'it' or them? Where will the DNA come from? Does being 'biological' only mean the combination of chemicals are usually found in biologic life? What are the actual practical uses the creator has in mind? The article compares the computers with the silicon-based chips found in today's personal computers and other devices, but it is unclear how a 'biological device' would function, say as a processor in a PC.
And in the end computers will take over the world, or what? The main idea seems great but what will it lead to? The future might be scary. If you are interested in this kind of subjects (or similar) you can check for free science books at http://sciyo.com/.
Solve a few housing problems by growing structures from a chemical program, pretty much like a tree does it now. I dont mean a Hometree, more a treehome...
We have dozens of historical examples of what happens when a society tries to prevent the advancement of technology... it doesn't.
responding to the virus question, the next generation of viruses will be whatever we program them to be. I think that we need to create an OS that is impervious to viruses altogether. It can be done, but the current mindset of our society needs to change as well.
It only makes sense. Even the best quantum processors are a long way from being practical. We need a bridge between current processors technology and the quantum processor. Organic molecular circuits are the next logical step and will probably still be in use even after we perfect quantum processing. I doubt computer viruses will be tiny biological terrors, more likely just pulses of light that cause the DNA to mutate but, I wonder if one would have to take special care when installing an organic processor to keep it from being contaminated or if they would be the same as modern processors, assembled in a clean room then sealed against end user contamination.
Since this is practically the stuff of sci-fi, might be interesting to read something that really takes biotechnology/nanotechnology very far - as often such works are actually insightful. Interesting ideas in "The Reality Dysfunction" for example.
Kinda spooky, but it sounds like what digital integrated circuits were in the 60' - 70'. The possibilities (good or bad) seem limitless.
mason, you might like to read Blood Music by Greg Bear http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blood_Music Then again, you might not...
Doesn't this worry you just a little? I mean, if computers are made of DNA structures that can create whatever DNA they need, what will the next generation of computer viruses be capable of?