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Science

Biological Computer Created at Stanford 89

Posted by samzenpus
from the meat-machine dept.
sciencehabit writes "For the first time, synthetic biologists have created a genetic device that mimics one of the widgets on which all of modern electronics is based, the three-terminal transistor. Like standard electronic transistors, the new biological transistor is expected to work in many different biological circuit designs. This should make it easier for scientists to program cells to do everything from monitor pollutants and the progression of disease to turning on the output of medicines and biofuels."
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Biological Computer Created at Stanford

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 29, 2013 @12:35PM (#43312247)

    We have synthetic biologists now?!?! What happened to the real ones?

    Reminds me of a quote.. "Synthetic scotch and synthetic commanders..." - Scotty

  • by Gabrill (556503) on Friday March 29, 2013 @12:36PM (#43312251)

    Hahahhaha funny.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Hahahhaha funny.

      Don't quit your day job. Sheesh... can I have a toke of that? Mybe it would be funny if I were stoned enough. Howecer, that lame "Hahahhaha funny" would spoil it no matter how much I'd smoked.

      -1, vastly overrated.

      • The problem is that only 0.01% of the population would understand the joke :(
        • by mcgrew (92797) *

          To those of us to understand the pun it's just too obvious to be funny.

        • Your statistics makes the fallacy worse! Am optimistic more than 50% of /. has already tried some GA hacking in one way or another.
  • by hawks5999 (588198) on Friday March 29, 2013 @12:36PM (#43312261)
    My wife and I have created 4 of those.
  • This was all over the news ... yesterday. Kudos, though, for linking to the original Science paper instead of some crappy summary of it - even though the Science paper is paywalled.
  • by Xicor (2738029)
    it is a war between building a working biological computer and getting the quantum computers to add 2+2 correctly 100% of the time! who will win? im betting on quantum computers. (especially since i would love to see an ansible sometime in my life)
    • Re:WAR! (Score:4, Funny)

      by raymorris (2726007) on Friday March 29, 2013 @12:52PM (#43312373)
      2 + 2 is one thing, but when they can correctly compute 4195835 / 3145727 they'll be better than Intel.
  • by girlinatrainingbra (2738457) on Friday March 29, 2013 @12:59PM (#43312417)
    There's a good picture of the "simulated results" vs. the results they really got in that Science magazine preview for an AND gate, and a relevant paragraph of the summary :
    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/assets/2013/03/28/sn-circuit.jpg [sciencemag.org]
    The Stanford team then showed that they could line up multiple transcriptors to carry out logical functions, creating standard logical circuits called AND gates, OR gates, XOR gates, and so on, which combine signals according to certain rules. (A computer's processor is a vast assemblage of such gates.) They also showed that their novel biological circuit designs were adept at producing signals with large amplification and that they could be used to up the expression of a variety of genes, such as the production of fluorescent signals that made it simple to detect cells that were carrying out their programming.

    I wonder exactly how they "assemble" the circuit and keep the components from diffusing or floating away, thus diassembling the circuit. What keeps the "circuit" of DNA strands in place?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Read TFA for the components of this circuit. The DNA part of the circuit is most likely integrated into the cellular genome, so is effectively stationary in the nucleus. The RNA polymerase component is probably the naturally occurring version of the protein that already exists in the cell. RNA polymerase randomly diffuses around in the nucleus, but there's not just one molecule of RNA polymerase around, there's loads of them, and they can all do the same job. With help from other proteins, they bind to sequ

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The summary has nothing to do with the headline. A transistor does not a computer make. To have anything worth talking about (as far as computers go), you would need to have a stupendous amount of these so-called "transistor"s interacting. This is no small leap- there is a significant amount of engineering work that goes into a processor even at higher levels of abstraction than gates.

    This is like saying that someone's made a car, when all they really did was make a gear or something. It's just sensationali

    • by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Friday March 29, 2013 @01:20PM (#43312593) Journal
      You're wrong. A small computer can be assembled from a few hundred vacuum tubes. I designed a CPU when I was in high school, on paper, turing complete. 4 bits, 16 instructions. Not a lot went into that.
    • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday March 29, 2013 @01:24PM (#43312629) Homepage Journal

      A transistor is a computer. It just computes exactly one function on exactly one set of inputs. It's a simple finite state machine.

      • by SloWave (52801)

        A transistor is a computer. It just computes exactly one function on exactly one set of inputs. It's a simple finite state machine.

        So transistor is a finite state machine is a computer. Well I've got a jar of pennies where each one is a finite state machine and therefore each one is a computer. Or else maybe they should start teaching more engineering and less computer science.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        No it isn't.
        It's like saying one of your cells is you. i.e. stupid.
        A computer need to ..compute.
        A transistor does not use a set of instructions.

    • by raymorris (2726007) on Friday March 29, 2013 @01:48PM (#43312847)
      Perhaps the headline should have said "logic gates" instead of "computer". It didn't say "Core i7" either, though. Babbage's machine was a computer. Programing graphics processors with punch cards dates to the early 1800s, so "computer" doesn't imply a modern desktop.

      I suspect you'd agree that any processor capable of running Windows is a computer. Therefore, any machine that can run a hypervisor, which in turn runs Windows, is a computer. You probably know where I'm headed - Turing machines. Any Turing machine can emulate a Core processor, and is therefore a computer. Wolfram's Turing machine requires only a few gates, so these researchers can probably build a biological Wolfram Turing computer today.
  • " program cells to do everything from monitor pollutants ..."

    I don't want them to pollute my monitors!

  • by Oloryn (3236) on Friday March 29, 2013 @03:08PM (#43313603)
    So, is this going to bring a new meaning to the term "computer virus"? As in an actual biological virus might affect the hardware.
  • I think it is more interesting that we have created synthetic biologists (as per the summary).

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