Chinese Scientists Develop DNA-Based Framework for Universal Computers

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Despite all the progress in working with DNA as a template and tool for reproducing and developing living organisms on Earth, attempts to use the same mechanism to perform mathematical algorithms have not been notably successful. Nevertheless, DNA-based logic is capable of immense parallelism, which could exponentially increase the computing power of computers. Chinese scientists have made significant strides in this direction.

Advancements in recording data on DNA have come a long way. Storing data in DNA is not particularly demanding in terms of processing speed, as it depends on the speed of biochemical reactions. However, electronic circuits on DNA that scientists have worked with have not been universally adaptable, and they could only execute a limited set of algorithms.

A group of researchers from China has developed an integrated DNA circuit capable of performing a wide range of operations. According to the scientists, a reconfigurable basic element (electronic circuit) with 24 addressable two-channel gates can be represented in 100 billion circuit variations, each capable of executing its own subroutine. This implies that this solution could be used to design a general-purpose processor capable of running any program.

In their work, published in the journal Nature, the researchers demonstrated how a three-layer matrix of DNA-based circuits in their chip could perform simple mathematical operations. The presented platform is highly scalable, which opens the door to the development of very powerful processors in the future.

To address the scalability issue, the scientists conducted further research. When a signal needs to travel through long DNA circuits, there is a risk of signal loss due to DNA fragments or DNA fragment concentration. In their experiments, the Chinese researchers used oligonucleotides—short DNA fragments that are already used as DNA information carriers and detectors. They demonstrated that typical single-stranded oligonucleotides work well as a universal signal for transmission, allowing large-scale circuits to be integrated with minimal leakage and high precision for general-purpose computations.

“The ability to integrate large-scale DPGA [DNA-based ASIC] networks without significant signal attenuation represents a key step toward general-purpose DNA computing,” say the researchers.

As an example, the scientists created a circuit capable of solving quadratic equations. It was assembled using three layers of cascaded DNA circuits, consisting of 30 logic gates and containing approximately 500 DNA strands. Moreover, integrating DPGA with an analog-to-digital converter will enable the classification of microRNAs associated with diseases. In other words, this proposed platform can not only function as a regular computer but also offer instant diagnostics of viral and other diseases. The potential of these capabilities is significant, and it raises the question of which applications will become the focus of further research.

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Martin Harris
I'm Martin Harris, a tech writer with extensive experience, contributing to global publications. Trained in Computer Science, I merged my technical know-how with writing, becoming a technology journalist. I've covered diverse topics like AI and consumer electronics, contributing to top tech platforms. I participate in tech events for knowledge updating. Besides writing, I enjoy reading, photography, and aim to clarify technology's complexities to readers.

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