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Scientists Create Advanced Biological Computer: Manipulating the Genetic Code

First Posted: May 27, 2013 07:58 AM EDT

The computing age is growing by leaps and bounds as we edge further into the future. Now, researchers may have taken another step forward. Scientists have used biomolecules, such as DNA and enzymes, in order to develop and construct an advanced biological transducer, a computer machine that's capable of manipulating genetic codes and using the output as new input for subsequent computations.

The use of biomolecular computing devices possesses enormous potential for the field of medicine. A biological "computer" could potentially be used in gene therapy for patients, or could even be used to aid cloning. Unlike electronic computers, a biomolecular computer could interact directly with biological systems and even living organisms. No interface would be required since all components of these computers, including hardware, software, input and output, are molecules that interact in solution along a cascade of programmable chemical events.

"Our results show a novel, synthetic designed computing machine that computes iteratively and produces biologically relevant results," said lead author Ehud Keinan of the Technion Schulich Faculty of Chemistry in a news release. "In addition to enhanced computation power, this DNA-based transducer offers multiple benefits, including the ability to read and transform genetic information, miniaturization to the molecular scale, and the aptitude to produce computational results that interact with living organisms."

All biological systems are essentially natural molecular computers. We possess components and molecules that "talk" to one another in a logical manner, sending signals through our bodies that allow us to perform everyday functions. Creating this new biological computer could allow scientists to help people when their systems are "hacked"--that is, when they develop a disease or become ill. Essentially, the computer could act as the anti-virus to our biological computer system.

Yet these applications are quite far away--and the transducer that was created has different functions. Currently, the researchers hope that this new transducer could be used on genetic material to evaluate and detect specific sequences, and to alter and algorithmically process genetic code. Similar devices could be applied for other computational problems.

The findings are published in the journal Chemistry & Biology.

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