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Living cells must constantly process information to keep track of the changing world around them and arrive at an appropriate response.
Through billions of years of trial and error, evolution has arrived at a mode of information processing at the cellular level. In the microchips that run our computers, information processing capabilities reduce data to unambiguous zeros and ones. In cells, it's not that simple. DNA, proteins, lipids and sugars are arranged in complex and compartmentalized structures.
Scientists—who - Potential - Cells - Living - Computers
But scientists—who want to harness the potential of cells as living computers that can respond to disease, efficiently produce biofuels or develop plant-based chemicals—don't want to wait for evolution to craft their desired cellular system.
In a new paper published May 25 in Nature Communications, a team of UW synthetic biology researchers have demonstrated a new method for digital information processing in living cells, analogous to the logic gates used in electric circuits. They built a set of synthetic genes that function in cells like NOR gates, commonly used in electronics, which each take two inputs and only pass on a positive signal if both inputs are negative. NOR gates are functionally complete, meaning one can assemble them in different arrangements to make any kind of information processing circuit.
UW - Engineers - DNA - Silicon - Solder
The UW engineers did all this using DNA instead of silicon and solder, and inside yeast cells instead of at an electronics workbench. The circuits the researchers built are the largest ever published to date in eurkaryotic cells, which, like human cells, contain a nucleus and other structures that enable complex behaviors.
"While implementing simple programs in cells will never rival the speed or accuracy of computation in silicon, genetic programs can interact with the...
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