DNA Computing

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DNA Computing

All of the complex computations in today's state-of-the-art computers are performed by hundreds of millions of simple hardware bits known as logic gates.  Each logic gate is made of a few transistors connected in very specific ways.  Using the 0s and 1s of binary code as their inputs, logic gates perform logical operations at blinding speed. 

For example, if both of the logic inputs that a logic gate receives are "1," it will produce the output for "AND."  Other combinations of 0s and 1s yield "OR," "NOT," and so on.

This approach has worked well with logic gates made of silicon.  However, great potential exists for a quantum leap in performance when we start making logic gates from short strands of DNA. 

As Columbia University chemist Milan Stojanovic and University of New Mexico computer scientist Darko Stefanovic explained recently in Scientific American,1 a new method for using molecules for computing and for autonomous decision making suggests that this quantum leap may be closer than most people believe.

Stojanovic and Stefanovic are devising a system for making "smart" agents, or drugs that could be injected into a patient's bloodstream, assess the person's medical condition, and then decide independently how to respond.  If successful, a doctor could inject a smart agent into a diabetic that would constantly monitor the person's blood glucose levels and, when necessary, release insulin.

The new approach follows previous efforts over the past 15 years by other researchers to make logic gates from molecules.

In 1993, A. Prasanna de Silva and other researchers at Queen's University Belfast constructed logic gates from small molecules.  These molecules served as an "AND" logic gate because they would light up only if both hydrogen ions and sodium ions bound to them. 

Four years later, J. Fraser Stoddart and a team of researchers at Birmingham University created an "OR" gate that worked when a molecule lit up if it detected one of the inputs, but not both.  The inputs in that study were hydrogen ions and amines.

Then, in 1995, Gerald F. Joyce invented a new method at the Scripps Research Institute for using strands of DNA to make enzymes.  Using this technique, a single strand of DNA slices other single strands of DNA into two sections, called deoxyribozymes

Deoxyribozymes will only bind to another piece of DNA that has a complementary sequence of the four bases — that is, the molecules A, T, G, and C, which pair up to create the double-helix structure of DNA...

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