29
Mar
10

How’s a DNA Computer Work

You’ve probably read a lot about DNA computers. The next generation of

computing power. Based on the idea that our cells program our entire genome with DNA and its six bases. All our bodies do is rearrange the position of the bases and the length of the message. Kind of like the bases are letters, strung together into words, or sentences (without the space between the words). A high school senior won a scholarship by programming the Declaration of Independence into a DNA molecule. She described it as counterintuitively easy.

Scientists accept that DNA computers are the future. DNA is the most common molecule on earth. A DNA computer that fits in a drop of water, carries its own energy pack , stores millions of times the data of a personal computer, operates hundreds of thousands of times faster than conventional silicon computers–and performs ten trillion operations at once.

A typical problem that a DNA computer excels at is the so-called “burnt pancake problem”:

A puzzle about how to stack different-size flapjacks that are burned on one side and perfectly cooked on the other using the fewest number of flips to arrange them so the largest are on the bottom and all are golden side up. For a stack of six pancakes, the possible number of stacks is 46,080, and for 12, nearly two trillion. “If you had 11 or 12 pancakes,” Haynes (a biologist at Davidson College in North Carolina) says, “then a conventional computer would take something on the order of months to solve the problem.”

Not so the DNA computer. According to Leonard Adleman, the man who invented the DNA computer:

DNA computers work by encoding the problem to be solved in the language of DNA: the base-four values A, T, C and G. Using this base-four number system, the solution to any conceivable problem can be encoded along a DNA strand a la a Turing machine tape. Every possible sequence can be chemically created in a test tube on trillions of different DNA strands, and the correct sequences can be filtered out using genetic engineering tools.

Blinding speed, minimalist size, portability–what’s the problem?

Errors. We are used to perfect computers–we accept nothing less from them. DNA’s errors are chronic and systemic–called mutations. Life doesn’t require perfection, so DNA doesn’t offer it. Computers do.

Man, in whom DNA has evolved the most sophisticated problem-solving skills in any life form, still must solve this problem.

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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

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