Thursday, August 25, 2011

Keeping an Eye on Biocomputers/DNA Computing Systems

 I've been keeping an eye on DNA computing, or biocomputers, for quite some time now. These are the computer systems of the future - a form of computing which use DNA, biochemistry and molecular biology, instead of the traditional silicon-based computer technologies.  

Biocomputers are well along in the research and development (R&D) stage, but still have quite a way to go before viable commercial products will emerge on the market. However, biocomputers utilizing nanobiotechnology may one day become the most energy-efficient, most powerful, and most economical of any type of commercially available computer.

·     The first proof-of-concept involving the use of DNA to perform computation was carried out by Professor Leonard Adleman at the University of Southern California in 1994. In 1997, researchers at the University of Rochester develop DNA Logic Gates.
·     In February 2003, National Geographic News published an article on “Computers Made from DNA and Enzymes”, reporting that Israeli scientists had devised a biocomputer that can perform 330 trillion operations per second, more than 100,000 times the speed of the fastest PC.
·     In April 2004, an article in Science Daily entitled “Biological Computer Diagnoses Cancer and Produces The Drug” stated that a biomolecular computer had been developed that diagnoses in vitro a form of cancer - and then performs an appropriate medical intervention by producing a biologically active molecule with anti-cancer activity.
·     In May 2007, a Medical News Today article entitled “Scientists Develop Tiny Implantable Biocomputers” reported that researchers at Harvard University and Princeton University had made a crucial step toward building biological computers - tiny implantable devices that can monitor the activities and characteristics of human cells.
·     In 2010, an article in New Scientist reported that DNA-based logic gates which could carry out calculations inside the body have been constructed for the first time. The work finally brings the prospect of injectable biocomputers programmed to target diseases as they arise into reality.

Biocomputers are at the ‘bleeding edge’ of health information and/or computer technology. Commercial products using this emerging technology are still probably 10-15 years away. Expect them to be the key component in implantable eCare systems of the future. Perhaps progress could be moved along if the collaborative, open source community got more involved.

At this point, Chief Information Officers (CIO) of healthcare organizations should simply monitor progress of this technology periodically.  This technology has tremendous potential down the road. A major economic benefit of biocomputers to keep in mind lies in the potential of all biologically derived systems to one day self-replicate and self-assemble given appropriate conditions. (Anyone seen Terminator?)

In September 2011, the 17th International Conference on DNA Computing and Molecular Programming will be held at  the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. See

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