Biological Computing: What do Cells compute?


“It's hard to co-exist with things that want to kill you.” Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes

With the current Escherichia Coli bacteriological attack in Europe (hey even if it’s natural, it is still an attack if you got the “trots”).  (What is Escherichia Coli or e-coli, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escherichia_coli).  What is amazing is that they were able to sequence the bacteria before they found the source, I think that is amazing.

Consider what you could do if you could use bacteria to perform computations.  Weird.  But it has been done. 

Ron Weiss050428_bacteria_heart_02 a professor of Electrical Engineering at Princeton, and the work was done 6 years ago.  So the future is here.

The hope was that in the near future (in 2005) that this type of biological computer would find bio-terrorist devices.  Can’t determine if that line of research lead anywhere.  During that time frame there was a great deal of work to find a way around the use of dogs for sniffing out drugs, bombs, etc.  After several billion dollars, it appears that the military is going to go with dogs.

However, the research is interesting, in that the bacteria act as the logic circuits.  The paper can be found at:

http://hdl.handle.net/1721.1/8228

Quite interesting and even if you ignore the equations it is an interesting read.

 

 

Just think, if you don’t use the bacteria computer for computing (what a boring use of this technology) but rather use it in drugs to determine the appropriate dosages or other decisions at the cellular level.  So with e-Coli, you could design a e-Coli that could determine the amount of fat in the bloodstream and take fat out of the food as needed.

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You have a segment of DNA that dictates when proteins should be made and under what conditions," Weiss told LiveScience. The plasmid is inserted into a cell, and "the cell then executes the set of instructions."

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