February 13th, 2013 | Category: Beginner's Guides, Computing, Information processing, Papers, Synthetic Biology | Leave a comment

Turning cells into computers

Any would-be Exeter iGEMers may be interested in this article, appearing in Nature, about the current state of play in biocomputing: i.e. using biological molecules to perform computation. The article introduces the work presented in the paper, “Synthetic circuits integrating logic and memory in living cells(which is behind a paywall, so I can’t comment on it, but I’m sure it is interesting). Here’s the abstract (which we are allowed to see),

Logic and memory are essential functions of circuits that generate complex, state-dependent responses. Here we describe a strategy for efficiently assembling synthetic genetic circuits that use recombinases to implement Boolean logic functions with stable DNA-encoded memory of events. Application of this strategy allowed us to create all 16 two-input Boolean logic functions in living Escherichia coli cells without requiring cascades comprising multiple logic gates. We demonstrate long-term maintenance of memory for at least 90 cell generations and the ability to interrogate the states of these synthetic devices with fluorescent reporters and PCR. Using this approach we created two-bit digital-to-analog converters, which should be useful in biotechnology applications for encoding multiple stable gene expression outputs using transient inputs of inducers. We envision that this integrated logic and memory system will enable the implementation of complex cellular state machines, behaviors and pathways for therapeutic, diagnostic and basic science applications.

Being a simple biologist the thought of using a cell as a calculator does not excite me as much as it did most of Exeter 2012‘s maths and physics contingent. However, for those that are keen on this nascent area, follow this link for another biocomputing paper, out last year, and for those on Google+, follow “Cellular computing” for the latest news and views.

UPDATE: A further report discussing this paper can be found at iTechPost.

 

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