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DNA Computing

Diagram of DNA moleculeI often write as though one day IT will replace clinicians as repositories of medical knowledge freeing them to address the human side of care. But what if the silicon chip itself could be replaced?

In the May 2006 edition of Scientific American Bring DNA Computers to Life foresees a biomedical computer acting as a intracellular GP by sensing molecular clues and sending out appropriate signals or drugs.

In 1936 Alan Turing suggested a universal computing machine with three parts:

  • An input device;

  • A set of internal states;
  • and
  • An output device.

Such a machine resembles the way proteins are synthesized in living cells. Messenger RNA carries gene transcripts in codons each of which corresponds to an amino acid. The ribosome reads the information on the messenger RNA, like a cook a recipe, collecting ingredients, chopping and combining them to produce the protein.

A biomolecular computer would be slower than a chip, and no known enzymes can do the reading, chopping and combining needed to create it. However, while we are waiting for the enzymes to be synthesised, the article's authors suggest that a two state diagnostic device indicating "yes" and "no" may suffice.

For example, many cancers are characterized by abnormal levels of certain proteins in the cell. The gene activity needed to make them could trigger the production of molecules that would signal their presence.

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