Formerly only able to compute simple math problems, researchers have now been able to get DNA to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. Tom Ran and Ehud Shapiro of the Weizmann Institute in Israel have been working on a way to create autonomous organically based ‘computers’ to help battle elusive disease processes like cancer en vivo.
“Using more sophisticated biochemistry, we were able to implement simple logic programs, which are more akin to the way people program electronic computers,” he said.The system devised by the researchers uses molecules to represent facts and rules. In this way, the team was able to use it to answer simple molecular “questions”.
First, they tried the system with simple “if… then…” propositions. One of these went as follows: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.”
When fed a molecular rule (all men are mortal) and a molecular fact (Socrates is a man), the DNA computing system was able to answer the question “Is Socrates mortal?” correctly.
The team went on to set up more complicated queries involving multiple rules and facts. The DNA devices were able to deduce the correct answers every time.
The answer was encoded in a flash of green light. Some of the DNA strands were equipped with a naturally glowing fluorescent molecule bound to a second molecule which keeps the light covered.
A specialised enzyme, attracted to the part of the molecule representing the correct answer, would then remove this cover to let the light shine.”
This science is clearly in its infancy but seems to be showing a lot of promise. At this pace, I will probably still be alive to watch the Cylons take over Earth…