Breakthrough in DNA Computers

A new discovery is about to change the way we process information and the entire information technology sector

Breakthrough in DNA Computers

Снимка: Pixabay

240 ~ 4 мин. четене
Автор: Aleksandar Aleksandrov

We are used to seeing computers as metal machines with components, such as a processor, a hard drive, and RAM, through which they carry out a huge number of calculations. This concept is at the basis of modern laptops, smart phones, tablets, and all other digital devices, and is already being introduced into our cars, TVs, home appliances, etc. at a rapid pace. Around us, however, there are many other ways of processing information, and no, traditional computers are not the most common among them. This honour belongs to another information system that functions in each of us and in practice in every living creature in the world. Of course, we are talking about DNA or DeoxyriboNucleic acid.

This miniature molecule stores all the information about how we and our heirs should look like, what features to possess and how to change. DNA is such a powerful information system that only six grams of this bio-substance can store

3072 exabytes of information

If you wonder what an exabyte is, it’s a huge amount of data equivalent to 1,000 petabytes or 1,000 x 1,000 terabytes, and as a comparison, in the beginning of 2011, the whole humanity stored a total of about 300 exabytes. The performance of such a system could reach 1000 petaFLOPS. Again, to compare, for the most powerful supercomputers today, this indicator is slightly above 100 petaFLOPS.

Controlling a comparable

computational power

would ultimately change our society, leading to a new generation of computers capable of performing calculations unparalleled to today’s understanding. And probably every regular user will be able to put in their pocket a machine that surpasses the performance of today’s supercomputers. The impact on science would also be enormous, because computers with similar capabilities will help answer a number of questions in areas, such as genetics, medicine, astronomy, elementary particle physics, and many others. We can only guess what kind of discoveries such a development would lead to. The very concept of computers would also ultimately change, as DNA information is processed in parallel and millions or billions of molecules can interact simultaneously.

You are probably asking yourselves: what are we waiting for and why have we not harnessed this potential of living nature? Hundreds of scientists around the world are already trying to do this and create computers by using entirely DNA.

Leonard Adleman, a computer scientist at the University of Southern California and a Turing Award winner who has won the Nobel Prize for Computer Science, was the first to think of the computational capacity of the spiral of life. He was the one who, for the first time back in 1994, presented a DNA-based system that can perform different calculations. Since then, this IT sub-segment has undergone serious development. In 2002, Israeli scientists created a molecular computer composed of enzymes and DNA molecules instead of silicon microchips, and two years later, a research team from the same country presented a DNA machine with an input/output system, which in theory should be able to diagnose cancer. Another breakthrough was made in 2013 when a team of scientists managed to store in a DNA, a JPEG image, a Shakespearean sonnet, and an audio file. In 2016, the prospective CRISPR gene editing technology was used to insert a GIF image of a galloping horse into live bacteria DNA.


Despite the impressive development of DNA computers so far, they have always suffered from one major weakness - the code created through them could not be rewritten. Or, if we use a parallel with traditional computing machines - it’s like having to create a new computer every time we want to run a new software program. This is about to change because of a new breakthrough in this segment earlier this year, which could lead to the emergence of a new generation of programmable DNA computers.

The achievement

has been made by a team of scientists from the UC Davis University of California, the California Institute of Technology and Harvard, led by David Doty. What they have managed to do is a system of 355 unique DNA “tiles” that could be compared to the conventional computer circuits. The result is a computer that can run 21 different programs, including functions, such as counting, choosing list options, palindrome recognition, etc. The team has already presented its discovery in an article in Nature Magazine, which was received positively by the scientific community.

The perspectives

in front of such technology are huge. In fact, it opens the door to the development of complete biological computers that use the computing potential of DNA. This brings us closer to the point where such machines can appear in our lives and, if not adopted by regular users, would at least solve serious scientific issues and improve our quality of life and our understanding of the universe. The advantages of such technology are enormous.