Feeds

Boffins make bio-chip breakthrough

Cancer-detecting yogurt now possible

Build a business case: developing custom apps

MIT boffins have made a breakthrough in biological computing that paves the way for cancer-detecting yogurts and other gloopy marvels.

The advance, which saw the researchers combine logic and memory within a single living cell, was published in the "Synthetic circuits integrating logic and memory in living cells" paper in Nature Biotechnology on Sunday.

The MIT researchers were able to create a biological circuit that could perform all 16 two-input Boolean logic functions in e-coli cells and store the output in DNA.

"We have created an efficient system for integrated logic and memory within single cells," the researchers wrote in the Nature paper. "Our modular DNA assembly strategy enables straightforward plug-and-play encoding of logic functions with concomitant memory arising from the ability of recombinases to 'write' information in DNA."

The circuits work by using recombinases - genetic recombination enzymes - to invert targeted stretches of DNA, letting the researches encode a single bit of memory into the DNA's orientation. When the e-coli divides (roughly every 30 minutes), the information is copied over to a new generation of bacteria, adding redundancy to stored data over time.

Potential applications of the technology include diagnosis of diseases, drug delivery and toxin detection.

"It's bringing computation to another realm, to the realm of biology," professor of MIT's Synthetic Biology Group and a senior author of the paper Timothy Lu told The Register.

"The goal here is not to replace silicon-based computers - most forms of biocomputing are probably too slow to compete with electronics," he said. What the technology does do is open up "a whole new class of applications," he said.

Previously boffins around the world have managed to create synthetic datastores in DNA and implement Boolean logic in living cells, but Lu believes this is the first time researchers have been able to cram both together within a single cell (or, for you semi-buffs out there, onto the same biological die).

This is a major advance because it allows the technology to work better within the "resource-constrained" environments of biological systems. "Direct and efficient encoding of complex logic functions without the need to cascade multiple universal gates together is desirable."

Want a cancer diagnosis with your morning yogurt, sir?

A future application of the technology could be diagnosis of early stage cancers.

"People eat yoghurt all the time, perhaps you could put this type of circuit into a harmless bacteria you'd already eat anyway, it could go in and sense some kind of early stage colon cancer and at the other end you could see these cells and collect them," Lu mused.

Messy collection of data aside, the example demonstrates one of the ways in which organic computing is more attractive than digital computing in a medical diagnosis setting: tell a person that you're going to feed them a fleet of microscopic nanomachines and they might get a bit nervy, offer them some fermented cow-juice and they'll probably open wide.

There are also opportunities for drug delivery, as the technology would make it possible to make a cellular circuit that could instruct cells to grow, produce recombinant proteins, and then self-destruct.

Bomb detection is a possibility as well, as this technology could be used to make biosensors that would sit around not doing much until they detected toxins or explosive, at which point they could turn a different colour.

Now that the scientists know how to mush logic and memory into the same circuit - a kind of biological memristor, if you will - the next area of development is creating biological devices with reversible memory.

This would let them "build circuits that can be reused over and over again for more complex computations," Lu says. By example, he noted that to count in binary you need to be able to reverse memory bits as counting from 0 to 7 is 0, 1, 10, 11, 100, 101, 110, 111.

Having this capability would let the scientists build sequential logic systems that could be reset or tied to a kind of system clock.

"I'm excited about extending this platform to higher organisms to tackle applications in biotechnology and basic science," Lu said. "We're also interested in expanding the complexity of computations that can be achieved with this approach." ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.