A stark limitation to biological computers was that any code programmed into DNA couldn’t be rewritten which basically means “having to build a new computer out of new hardware just to run a new piece of software.”
But now, UC Davis computer scientist David Doty and his team have built the first DNA-based computer that can be written and rewritten like any other — a potentially revolutionary leap that could lead to the next generation of biological computing.
The idea behind DNA computing is to substitute chemical bonds for electrical signals and nucleic acids for silicon to create biomolecular software.
In research published in the journal Nature, Doty and other scientists from UC Davis, California Institute of Technology, and Harvard describe a DNA-based computer with 355 different “tiles” of DNA that can be compared to the circuits in a conventional computer.
Compared to existing DNA circuitry that can only one run program, the team of researchers managed to program their computer to run 21 different programs, which can do simple things like counting, selection options from a list, and recognizing palindromes.
It’s all early work — the study is producing “beautiful, albeit useless results” — but it could lay the groundwork for a new generation of flexible, programmable biological computers.
DNA-based computers hold the promise of massive parallel computing architectures that are impossible today.
Reference- Futurism, Wired, Nature