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Stanford Engineers Create Biological Transistor

From: Stig Agermose <stig.agermose.nul>
Date: Fri, 29 Mar 2013 14:48:30 -0700 (PDT)
Archived: Sat, 30 Mar 2013 08:05:08 -0400
Subject: Stanford Engineers Create Biological Transistor

One theory about the so-called greys is that they are biological
robots build to withstand the stress factors of interstellar
travel, so I found this achievement particularly interesting.

Stig Agermose


Source "io 9 - We Come From The Future"


This New Discovery Will Finally Allow Us To Build Biological

The dawn of biological computers is at hand. In a major first
for synthetic biology, Stanford engineers have used genetic
material to create a biological transistor. Called the
"transcriptor," the creation is the final, missing component
necessary for the creation of a biological computer that could
enable researchers to program functions into living cells.

Modern computers rely on three standard functions. One: they
must be able to store information. Two: they have to be able to
transmit information. Three: they need a basic system of logic
=E2=80=93 a set of rules that governs how they should function given
one or more forms of input. A biological computer would
implement all three on a cellular level, using proteins and DNA
in place of silicon chips.

The first two functions have been demonstrated with cellular
materials before. Several labs have now demonstrated the ability
to store digital data in DNA, some of them at jaw-dropping
densities [link]; and last year, a team led by Stanford
bioengineer Drew Endy developed a system for transmitting
genetic information between cells. Now, in a study recounted in
the latest issue of Science [link], Endy's team has developed
what it calls a "transcriptor" =E2=80=93 the biological equivalent of
a digital transistor =E2=80=93 and with it a system of logic that can
control cellular function.

In your standard computer, transistors govern the flow of
electricity by playing red light/green light with electrons
along a circuit. Similarly, a transcriptor regulates the flow of
a protein called RNA polymerase along a strand of DNA.
Transistors and transcriptors are, at their most basic, on/off
switches =E2=80=93 the gatekeepers of information transmission,
storage, amplification, and so forth.

The rules that these gatekeepers follow give rise to the logic
systems that dictate what problems a computer can solve. A
transcriptor gatekeeper that lives by a code of "AND," for
example, might allow RNA polymerase to continue along a strand
of DNA when two predetermined conditions are "true" =E2=80=93 if, for
example, the transcriptor detects the presence of Enzyme-A AND
Enzyme-B inside the cell.

A transcriptor that abides by the code of "OR," on the other
hand, would allow RNA polymerase to continue when either or both
of the enzymes are present. In computer science, transistors
that abide by AND-/NAND-/OR-/XOR-/NOR-/XNOR-rules (which you can
read all about here) [link] are called Boolean logic gates. Endy
calls his transcriptor equivalents Boolean Integrase Logic
gates. Or "BIL" gates, for short [link]. Below, Endy provides an
in-depth explanation of Transcriptors and BIL gates.

Here's the takeaway: if you line a bunch of these logic gates
up, you form a logic circuit. Get enough logic circuits
together, and you have a computer that can handle just about any
computation you throw at it =E2=80=93 whether it's addition and
subtraction on a calculator, or gene expression inside a cell.

Endy plans on starting small. For now, he's working with
bacteria, helping other researchers use his BIL gates to
engineer E. coli that can be programmed to change color. And in
a refreshingly practical take on the potential applications of
his team's creation, Endy told NPR's Morning Edition [link] that
he doubts these DNA computers will ever outwit your iPhone; but
this, he said, is missing the point.

"We're building computers that will operate in a place where
your cellphone isn't going to work."

Endy's team's research is published in the latest issue of
Science [link]. For a fantastic animated explanation of
Transcriptors, check out this series of graphics created by Adam
Cole for NPR [link].

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