Scientists at the University of Manchester, led by Professor Ross D. King, have created a new DNA-based computing device. If you think of DNA as being the code for generating life, then it's not hard to see it as capable of performing other tasks. Just as the four key proteins of DNA can be combined to tell white blood cells to attack infections or grow hair, they could also theoretically be used to analyze massive amounts of climate data... or you know, render a disturbingly realistic Nazi to shoot in the face.
Current computers use a finite number of processors to perform these sorts of operations. A device that uses DNA molecules can grow more of itself to perform many calculations simultaneously, seemingly without limit. Quantum computers, still in their infancy, can also process concurrently, but still need specific set ups to do so, which limits their usefulness. DNA computers have no such constraint.
"Imagine a computer is searching a maze and comes to a choice point, one path leading left, the other right," Professor King told Popular Mechanics, "Electronic computers need to choose which path to follow first. But our new computer doesn't need to choose, for it can replicate itself and follow both paths at the same time, thus finding the answer faster."
If your Macbook used DNA molecules instead of silicon, for example, it would have a ton more processing power and use far less energy. Obviously Apple isn't going to be cramming DNA in its Macbook Pro refresh anytime soon, but the University of Manchester's work is is a big step towards faster, more efficient computing devices in the future.
DNA 'computers' could lead to self-activated smart pills
Imagine a pill that knew if you were ill enough to need drugs, and wouldn't release chemicals if it thought you didn't need it. That's the breakthrough that's been made at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands by a team of researchers ld by Maarten Merkx. The team has harnessed the power ofDNA itself to form an organic computer that performs crude calculations on the state of your health.
When you get ill, or suffer from a chronic condition, doctors normally prescribe drugs to help you get better, but this is based on a set of generic guidelines. The idea is that a smart pill will be able to offer specific doses, tailored to your needs, reducing the risk of side effects and waste.
The computation comes in the form of the DNA, which looks for molecules that it can react with as a form of data-gathering. Put simply, the pill will journey inside your body and sniff the local environment to decide if you need more medicine. Of course, like so many things at the bleeding edge of technology, it's still early days for this form of treatment, but the potential is exciting.