In the field of DNA computing, scientists research ways to use the properties of DNA to design computers built of DNA instead of electricity and wires. DNA can store information incredibly efficiently, and a potential DNA computer could run many concurrent tasks more easily than a regular computer. To make DNA molecules operate as a circuit, researchers design special combinations of molecules so that different DNA inputs react and recombine to create specific DNA outputs. In a recent groundbreaking study, researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University have designed a circuit that is a foundation for a general-purpose DNA computer.

Previous research had created working DNA circuits, but always to do only one task, like a microchip that can only encrypt data. The researchers from Shanghai created a general DNA circuit that can easily be reconfigured for different tasks. Each of these circuits is a mixture of over 2000 different kinds of DNA molecules, composed of small reactions connected in a pattern that is customizable for different goals. When strung together and programmed, these circuits can do basic math operations and solve algebraic equations.

Right now, computing with DNA is far more expensive, slower, and less complex than using regular computers. DNA will likely never outperform silicon, except in some highly specific scenarios. However, electrical circuits once made this jump from specialized circuits to general purpose tools, and the authors of the study hope that the same leap in DNA hardware can make DNA computing more viable.

The research team from Shanghai Jiao Tong University includes Hui Lv, a professor in the School of Life Sciences and Biotechnology, Fei Wang, an associate professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences, and Chunhai Fan, a professor of Chemistry.

Managing Correspondent: Alex Yenkin

Original Journal Article: DNA-based programmable gate arrays for general-purpose DNA computing (Nature)

Press Article: DNA Computer Can Do Math, May Have Clinical and Diagnostic Potential (GEN)

Image Credit: Flickr/kat2rina

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