Fwd: Scientists Build Tiny Computer Using DNA Molecules

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    Subject: Fwd: Scientists Build Tiny Computer Using DNA Molecules
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    November 27, 2001

    Scientists Build Tiny Computer Using DNA Molecules


    LONDON, Nov. 26 (Reuters) Israeli scientists say they have built a DNA
    computer so tiny that a trillion of them can fit in a test tube and
    perform a billion operations per second with 99.8 percent accuracy.

    While such a computer has been theoretically possible for some time, the
    scientists, writing in last week's issue of the journal Nature, said this
    was the first programmable autonomous computing machine in which the
    input, output, software and hardware were all made of DNA molecules.

    Because the miniaturizing of conventional computers is reaching its
    limits, the scientists say the DNA computers have the potential to
    perform some kinds of operations much faster.

    For example, they said, their model could form the basis of computers
    that could be used to screen DNA libraries in parallel without sequencing
    each molecule, which could speed up acquisition of knowledge about DNA.

    "We have built a nanoscale computer made of biomolecules that is so small
    you cannot run them one at a time," said Prof. Ehud Shapiro of the
    Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, the leader of the
    research team. "When a trillion computers run together they are capable
    of performing a billion operations."

    DNA's double-helix molecule stores data on four chemical bases, known by
    the letters A, T, C and G, giving it a vast memory capacity. It can hold
    more information in a fifth of a teaspoon than a trillion CD's.

    "The living cell contains incredible molecular machines that manipulate
    information-encoding molecules like DNA and RNA in ways that are
    fundamentally very similar to computation," Professor Shapiro said.

    But he added, "Since we don't know how to effectively modify these
    machines or create new ones just yet, the trick is to find naturally
    existing machines that, when combined, can be steered to actually

    In their article in Nature, the Israeli scientists describe their DNA
    computer as a molecular model of one of the simplest computing machines,
    the automaton that can answer certain yes or no questions.

    The data are represented by pairs of molecules on a strand of DNA, and
    two naturally occurring enzymes act as the hardware to read, copy and
    manipulate the code. When it is all mixed together in the test tube, the
    software and hardware operate on the input molecule to create the output.

    The DNA computer also has a very low energy consumption, so if it is put
    inside the cell it will not require much energy to work.

    Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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