What Is A DNA computer? How Can It Beat The World’s Fastest Supercomputers?


Short Bytes: The concept of DNA computing was first introduced in 1994. It deals with the “biochips” made of DNA that are able to perform billions of calculations at once by multiplying themselves in number. In other words, a DNA computer grows as it computes. In a recent development, the researchers from the University of Manchester have shown that the creation of this conceptual computer is possible in real life.

Intel is struggling to increase the speed of their CPUs due to the limitations of Moore’s law. The other processor makers are also working hard to beat the speed records. There’s no denying the fact that researchers and scientists need to look for silicon alternatives for faster computing. The silicon-based computers have a finite number of processors and, thus, their capabilities are also finite.

Here, I’m going to tell you about one such concept–which might seem ‘magical’ to you–named DNA computing

What is a DNA computer? How does it work?

Long back in 1994, the concept of computing with DNA was first proposed to make calculations faster even with a small footprint. Its major highlight was the ability to multiply itself and carry out numerous calculations simultaneously. In other words, unlike a normal computer that performs calculations one after another, a DNA computer does those calculations at once by making multiple copies of itself.

Coming back to the introduction of the concept of DNA computing in 1994, it was invented by the famous cryptographer Leonard Adleman who used DNA to solve the “traveling salesman” problem. The problem aimed at finding out the shortest route between a number of cities by going through each city only once. Adleman showed that billions of molecules in a drop of DNA had so much computational power that can simply overpower silicon and the powerful human-based computers.

In his experiment, the strands of DNA represented 7 cities. The sequences of genetic alphabets A, T, C, and G represented cities and the path. After this, when the DNA molecules were mixed in a test tube, some DNA strands stuck together and the chains of strands were the possible answers. Using some chemical reactions, wrong molecules were removed. You can read more about the process in detail in this paper written by Adleman himself.

dna computing 1
Image: Scientific America/Leonard Adleman

These DNA molecules are able to store billions of times more data as compared to tradition storage devices. Due to an abundance availability of DNA, it’s a cheap resource. Also, a DNA computer will be environment-friendly and compact in size.

What’s the latest progress? Is DNA computing going to be a reality very soon?

In 1997, the researchers at the University of Rochester developed basic DNA logic gates, which was seen as a breakthrough. Recently, a major development in the field of DNA computing was made by the researchers from the University of Manchester, which is famous for creating first stored memory electronic computer.

The researchers have shown that it’s possible to build a DNA computer that’ll grow as it’ll compute. This concept is also being called a nondeterministic universal Turing machine (NUTM).

As the DNA molecules are very tiny, a desktop “DNA” computer can utilize more processors than all the electronic computers in the world combined. “And therefore outperform the world’s current fastest supercomputer, while consuming a tiny fraction of its energy,” according to Professor King of Manchester’s School of Computer Science.

In a research paper, they have described the physical design for an NUTM that implements a universal Thue system. This design uses the DNA’s ability to replicate to execute an exponential number of paths. Their paper shows that this design works using in vitro molecular biology experimentation and computation modeling. You can read the research paper to know more details.

Currently, the field of DNA computing is in its nascent stage, and it’ll take a long time to develop a working DNA computer. But, whatever might be the rate of progress, the concept surely sounds exciting.

So, did you find this article on DNA computers helpful? Don’t forget to share your views and feedback.

Adarsh Verma

Adarsh Verma

Fossbytes co-founder and an aspiring entrepreneur who keeps a close eye on open source, tech giants, and security. Get in touch with him by sending an email — [email protected]
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