This might sound like a fairy tale but hopes are high that the DNA-based computers could one day become the norm for processing mathematical calculations that are far too complex for silicon-based computers. A DNA computer is a means of computing in which DNA, molecular biology hardware and biochemistry are employed, other than popular silicon-based computer technologies. The project was made possible with the aid of a DNA computer which used a hybridization process (also known to be a process when two strands of DNA attach to form double-stranded DNA) to carry out various calculations, with one of particular notice.
“The prospect of programming molecular computing systems to realize complex autonomous tasks has advanced the design of synthetic biochemical logic circuits,” the researchers highlighted in their abstract for a paper detailing the computing work. “One way to implement digital and analog integrated circuits is to use noncovalent hybridization and strand displacement reactions in cell-free and enzyme-free nucleic acid systems. To date, DNA based circuits involving tens of logic gates capable of implementing basic and complex logic functions have been demonstrated experimentally. However, most of these circuits are still incapable of realizing complex mathematical operations, such as square root logic operations, which can only be carried out with 4-bit binary numbers.”
The actual square root calculation was done at the University of Rochester, as the scientific group encoded a number into the DNA through a combination of 10 building blocks, with eachcombination mirroring a number reaching up to 900. A fluorescence marker was attached to these combinations, of which the group then adjusted the fluorescent signal to match the square root of the original number. This whole process can be easily understood by observing the color of the fluorescence marker at conclusion.
“Yes, we are working on implementing more complex calculations [in the future],” professor Chunlei Guo, a major official on the project, said. “A key advantage of DNA computers is its superior parallelism that can handle extremely complex problems. With continuous developments, [DNA computers] may one day displace conventional computers in extremely complex computation.”