Cell Calculators Created
Recent research has explored new ways of quantum and biological computing that might be more powerful than our existing binary system. Following suit, a team of researchers from ETH Zurich have now integrated one of the most complex genetic networks into mammalian cells, allowing them to perform logical calculations like a normal calculator.
The cells' ablities lie in the genetic networks created by the scientists. These genetic networks are biological representations of what is known in electrical engineering and computing as logic gates.
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Logic gates are physical devices which can implement a Boolean function, meaning that they can take one or more logic inputs and produce a single output.
After creating these biological logic gates, the researchers were able to combine them in such a way as to create two important combinational circuits: the half-adder, and the half-subtractor. The half-adder adds two binary numbers, zeroes and ones, while the half-subtractor deducts them from one another.The cells fluoresce in indication of their computing.
"By combining several logic gates, we have achieved an unprecedented level of complexity in a synthetic gene network in mammalian cells," says team leader Martin Fussenegger, a professor of biotechnology and bioengineering at ETH Zurich's Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) in Basel.
These mini "biocomputers" can process two different signals in parallel, which sets apart from digital electronics that work with electrons. The cells, however, can only compute simple arithmetic, and are still a long way from the computing capabilities of our average personal computers.
Previous research has incorporated circuitry into bacteria and yeast, but this is the first time the entire network has been integrated into a single, mammalian cell.
The system could be used to deliver biological monitoring systems into patients with diseases such as diabetes. These cells would be tied into the metabolic process, and could be intelligent delivery systems for insulin.