University Researchers Break Ground In Molecular Computing - InformationWeek

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University Researchers Break Ground In Molecular Computing

Researchers at Columbia University and the University of New Mexico have built a DNA-based computer whose processing complexity rivals that of the earliest computer chips.

Researchers at Columbia University and the University of New Mexico have technology in the genes, and they've taken molecular computing to a level of complexity that rivals the earliest computer chips.

Maya II, or the Molecular Array of YES and AND logic gates, employs hairpin-shaped DNA strands as 128 logic gates, functioning as an equivalent number of transistors. Their molecular computer is capable of beating human opponents at tic-tac-toe.

Imagine losing tic-tac-toe to DNA in a cell culture plate

Imagine losing tic-tac-toe to DNA in a cell culture plate
DNA computers work on a molecular scale, so they can pack a lot of power. A cubic centimeter of DNA is estimated to hold the same amount of information as a trillion music CDs. Molecular computers also produce energy as a byproduct of DNA reactions, meaning they could conceivably operate in data centers without dependence on outside electricity sources.

Molecular component research has previously illustrated the feasibility of creating transistor-type gates, but "the ability to integrate molecular components remains crucial" for actually producing molecular-based devices, says Joanne Macdonald, an associate research scientist at Columbia.

Macdonald sees DNA logic gates, unlike silicon transistors, as being programmable to work inside the body or other living organisms and carry out highly specified functions, such as detecting low blood sugar or releasing insulin when needed.

Unlike electricity-based computing, molecular computing can float in a solution, conceivably inside the body's bloodstream, with chemical reactions generating the inputs and outputs of the system.

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Maya II's DNA strands have been preprogrammed to react in a predictable way when a human tic-tac-toe player adds a strand to a set of test tubes. Nine test tubes are set up in the shape of a tic-tac-toe board. As the human player makes a move by adding a particular DNA strand, one of the tubes contains DNA that will react to the addition. Maya II even registers the move as one DNA strand splits another in two, causing the substrate in which they float to fluoresce with green light.

Maya II isn't fast since its moves are based on slow chemical reactions. Each can take 30 minutes.

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