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UC Berkeley Announces First "Bionic Chip" 126

ebibe writes, "Researchers at UC Berkeley will announce successfully creating the 'bionic chip.' Part living tissue, part machine, this chip is the first in which a biological cell is part of the actual electronic circuitry. The chip, which took three years to build using silicon microfabrication technology, has a wide range of potential uses, including new ways to treat genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis or diabetes, safer methods to test new pharmaceuticals for side effects and more complex bionic electronic circuitry. View the entire press release here."
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UC Berkeley Announces First "Bionic Chip"

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Slashdot moderators are notoriously obsessed with crack and other mind-alterind substances. Hence they waste their points moderating down worthy posts because they are bored. Even though there is a whole sea of trolls to moderate. Can't we screen our moderators? Give them a psych test, and if they're stupid don't give them any points? please?
  • For six million dollars it had better run Linux ;)
  • C'mon for fsck's sake... this is UNIVERSITY RESEARCH, and it's *vital* technology to mankind. Get your greed out of the picture.
    Have you considered that part of the reason people do research like this is that there's some chance to make some money on it, both for the personal benefit of the researchers (sometimes), and for the benefit of the institution, which helps them fund more research?

    Patents only last 20 years (currently, in the US). I doubt that anyone is going to die in the next 20 years due to the technology being patented, that would otherwise have been saved.

    I'm unhappy about the patent system, but my reason is primarilly that they issue too many patents on obvious stuff. I haven't seen the patent application for this, and biochemistry is not my field, so I have no way to judge whether this stuff is obvious or not.

    My other gripe is that the patent office grants patents on genetic sequences that exist in nature. To my way of thinking, those don't constitute "inventions".

  • Anybody see the movie Gattica?

    Actually, it's Gattaca []. The title only has four letters: G, A, T and C.

    But the trouble in Gattaca wasn't with corporations misusing the technology. It was with society not accepting those who weren't altered by the technology.
  • by pen ( 7191 )
    Am I the only one who understands what this means?! No more condoms! Just put up a net of sperm- (or egg-) killing cells/nanites, and you're set!



  • Oh darn! my living cell microchip is dead..

    "Hey there sir, would you care come over here and bend, I need a tiny prostrate cell if you dont mind"

  • by HP LoveJet ( 8592 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @07:04PM (#1233278)
    Has anyone thought about calling this thing a biode?
  • by Ravenscall ( 12240 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:56PM (#1233279)
    This is an interesting technology, and I wionder about the other uses beyond genetic engineering. What with the new work they are doing with stem cells to combat diabetes ( ells.reut/index.html) such ' smart cells' if you will, could be genetically altered to introduce all manners of items int a subject. Think of a genetically altered cell made to produce insulin with the chip controlling the flow based on blood sugar for diabetics. Another thing to watch though is how the immune system reacts to these items.
  • > He said first commercial applications could begin within the year.

    Anybody got a clue which companies have licensed this technique?

  • From what the guy you replied to describes, that would be a zener diode.

  • It sounds great. Am I an alarmist if I say this scares me a little, too?
  • The press release forgot the sentence:

    "...then, in a move about as brilliant as sticking your head in a vat of boiling oil, the university went ahead and applied for a patent on this so that no one in the human race can benefit without someone in amerika becoming rich off it."

    I keep finding more and more reasons to hate the usa. C'mon for fsck's sake... this is UNIVERSITY RESEARCH, and it's *vital* technology to mankind. Get your greed out of the picture.

  • The title only has four letters: G, A, T and C

    ... which just happen to be the initials of the four nitrogen bases which make up DNA. Is it possible that I was the only one who noticed that? Naah.
  • They STILL haven't worked out that bug that made Lee Majors (and Farrah) sound like a turbine
    everytime they ran and stuff.
  • When your lungs stop working because of the BSOD, you'll get a bad case of BFOD (blue face of death).

    Imagine the effect UCITA would have on the software that runs these things? "His heart stopped because we forgot to close a parenthesis? Oh well, according to the EULA we're not responsible! Sorry, chuck! Better luck next time!"


  • Perhaps if these chips were compuational devices. They are micro labs, used to study cells (the cell is a diode, at best).

    No embedded CPU's here.

  • by weaver ( 22514 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:46PM (#1233289)
    According to the press release, the cell is not a computational unit, but rather the subject of the chip. The chip allows the researcher to 'open' the cell membrane on command.

    The possibilities of drug testing, genetic research, and just plain science are impressive. I wonder if the knowledge of how specific voltages open cell membranes could be used in nano tech work. Imagine a 'bionic' chip used to open cell membranes to allow the nanites to enter harmlessly.

    To take it a bit further, imagine larger nanites that open cells in situ allowing smaller nanites to slip in to do their work (or proteins or some such). Very cool.

    I expect it'll be a bit for any real applications come out of this, however.

    Take care,
  • It is a very interesting concept. In theory, it would be very useful, as mentioned, in cystic fibrosis, etc. But I would worry about the effects of having a device within a tissue that is carrying a current. I would imaging that in an actual tissue, the voltage would stimulate nearby nerves...which wouldn't take much...which could result in all sorts of arythmias, ventilation problems, problems in regulation of blood flow to organs, and lots of others. I don't see how they could work around this unless the chip itself could somehow be placed outside the body tissues, as a pacemaker is.

  • No, you're not the only one. If I remember, the title sequence in the film makes that pretty obvious. But I might just be pulling that out of a different orifice.
  • They think this will let them introduce DNA into a cell? Good. It will be nice to be able to do genetic engineering without having to use a virus to penetrate the cell.
  • Actually I was thinking about the possibility of altering a single cell in the lab, growing it, and implanting it. Such as GM bone marrow transplants, liver, pancreas, and stem cells. And other ones as we learn to keep more of them alive in vitro or create them from stem cells.
  • Yes, you'd need a gene-splicing DNA configuration. At least without the cell-piercing part of a virus package the GM DNA would not be infectious.
  • by Matt2000 ( 29624 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:54PM (#1233295) Homepage
    "...researchers announced that the new sophisticated chips could be on the market as early as next year and would have a wider range of more powerful flavours. The Sour cream and onion variety will be released at 9x its original flavour, while BBQ should be over 11x. Researchers say that the flavour multiple should increase rapidly as they move to a 0.1 mm ruffle process.

    Hostess' law states that flavour will double every 18 months while number of chips in a bag will half. Researchers have been worried lately that they may have been reaching the physical limits of flavour packing, but these newly announced bionic technologies should allow for further improvements." [] - Funny
  • There's so many dirty glasses, plates, bottles, and other assorted trash around my (non-covered) box that there's gotta be all sorts of microbes growing inside my box...and given the fast evolutionary cycle of microorganisms, I'm sure there's at least a few that have learned to integrate with my machine. At least it gives me something to blame wierd shit on.

  • Filling in for Signal 11?

  • Is it just me or is this announcement less than overwhelming from a clinical science perspective?

    Aside from basic science research, I can see very little application for this kind of device. Introducing molecules into cells is indeed a problem at times and a specific gate would indeed be helpful. However, simply using an electrode to open voltage gated protein transporters/pores does little to help because there are literally hundreds of different pores that would be affected by such a whole-cell transient voltage clamp. There are probably applications for measuring cell reaction in response to hyper/de-polarization. However...

    Gene therapy. I don't see how this is applicable. The cell transformation would have to take place in vitro - the number of diseases in which this is helpful are quite limited. In addition, the current ability to process one cell at a time seriously limits the utility of this device in most diseases where large cell populations need conversion for clinical efficacy. Someone mentioned stem cell conversion: this would (more than likely) help in converting these cells. However, it seems that successful reimplantation requires more than would be feasible with such a specific device. I suppose that it could be made into a huge grid for mass conversions, but I would be interested to know how they would expect to test conversion in such a case.

    In any event, I suppose this is a first. However, as far as gene therapy goes, I feel that the current vectors (retroviruses, AAV, lipids, etc.) hold more promise due to the built-in cellular specificity possible, their built-in capacity to (often) incorporate into the genome, and the sheer numbers of gene conversion events possible. Not to mention the size and possible immune issues restricting this device's in vivo use.


  • outfile << "Happy membrane! Die Cancer!";
  • by British ( 51765 ) <> on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:38PM (#1233300) Homepage Journal
    Hey I can't wait until i can instal linu..... naw, too easy.

    Oh great, this is the beginnings of the bor.... nope, too geeky.

    Hey I could turn myself into a human Beowu.... nahh, too abstract.

    What would happen if a vir..... uh uh, too obscure.

    What would happen if this ran Windo..... ah screw it.
  • by be-fan ( 61476 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:45PM (#1233301)
    The heading (actually the title given to it by the university) is a little misleading. What we have here is not biological computing devices, for example like the ones that use a slugs brain cell to compute, but a new way to get at the cell. It will probably be more usefull to genetic engineering than anything else. (It says the cell opens and closes in a millisecond, which is an aweful long time.) That out of the way, I think this is really what is needed to take genetic engineering to the next level. By having a "door" as the article put it, into the cell, genetic engineering can take place much more easily. Although this current technology of integrating the cell into a chip will be great for experiments, this technoglogy can also be taken to the point where cells can be operated on directly, perhaps with some sort of probe. This does, however, raise again the ugly question of ethics and science. Anybody see the movie Gattica? (An awesome movie by the way) If something goes wrong with this technology (ie corperations get a hold of it before educational institutions) then Gattica might not seem so much like science fiction.
  • We do screen the moderators, albeit after the fact. It's called Meta Moderation.

    Once you're logged in, you see a link at the top of your main Slashdot page that says "Have you tried Meta Moderation?" Click on that, and you are given 10 moderations from a previous group of posts. You get to choose if these moderations were fair, neutral, or unfair.

    This is who watches the watchers. The question now becomes: Who watches the ones who watch the watchers? The answer: H & CT
  • Hrm... I guess computer viruses now have a new meaning.

    But, seriously... if they can use this to manupulate DNA in cells, can't they use this as a "processor" enviroment for DNA computing? There are problems that can be solved much quicker using DNA computing than traditional silicon approach.

    -=- SiKnight
  • To read more comments on this, click here []. (It's a link to the same story posted by CmdrTaco a week ago).
  • Either is my brain is running on low gear or the post I'm replying to (Bruce Parens, #99) is automatically generated babble. Could it be an attempt to discredit Bruce Perens (with an "e"), the person behind Anyway, to respond to the meta-meaning of this garbage, cheap and easy biotech is not something that I forsee bubbling down to the garage/hacker level in the coming years. Comparing writing computer code to writing genetic code is like comparing doing math exercises to cooking over the phone in a dark kitchen without knowing what ingredients you have.
  • but what would this really open up as possible? The press release doesn't say much about implications. Still, I'd assume it'll be years before anything useful hits any market other than the government.

    Oh, and an off-topic section: I'm posting this using M14, and besides the fonts, I must say it's pretty damn good.

  • Aw sweet - I can imagine running around in a fully-interactive Quake arena using nothing but yourself and a few thousand of these bionic chips. Now that would be a useful implementation...

  • by Eruantalon ( 87981 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:59PM (#1233310) Homepage
    Yeah, I read that after posting. Guess I'll have to read first from now on...

    Anyways, so since it seems that this will be more beneficial to genetic engineering than anything else, I wonder if we should be worried about this. It'll probably be used to research diseases, cell functions, genetics & genetic defaults. Still, I can see problems with religious groups, crazies trying to engineer new diseases to wipe us off the face of the earth, and (even less likely) secret government studies trying to biologically control us all. But seriously, I'm sure there'll be some well-founded moral objections to the technology. Besides, research in human cloning became illegal in the USA soon after Dolly, why shoule we expect this technology to stay legal? All it needs is some lab somewhere in the world to start making genetic changes, and religious/moral groups will be all over the government to make this illegal as well.

  • What kind of civilization do we have that we celebrate a poor living cell being forced to be a gateway for electrical current. How do we know that these cells don't long to be free, to be able to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of Amoeba happiness?

    I am appalled. Appalled! We must storm the lab, and free these poor nuclei from the savage brutality of bondage.

    Who's with me? Light your torches, and follow me! FOLLOW ME!!


  • According to the press release, the cell is not a computational unit, but rather the subject of the chip. The chip allows the researcher to 'open' the cell membrane on command.

    #!/usr/bin/perl -w
    open(CELL, ">the_cell");
    print CELL "happy membrane! die cancer!";
    close(CELL); #not necessary, but i like it.

    Mike Roberto
    -- AOL IM: MicroBerto
  • "According to the press release, the cell is not a computational unit, but rather the subject of the chip. The chip allows the researcher to 'open' the cell membrane on command."

    #include "fstream.h"

    int main()
    ostream out_file;"cell_file");
    out_file "Happy membrane! Die Cancer!"; // i forget if this syntax is right
    return 0; // return YO MAMA! HAHA

    note - why isn't slashdot letting me post my brackets? my cout can't work!

    Mike Roberto
    -- AOL IM: MicroBerto
  • by MicroBerto ( 91055 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:49PM (#1233314)
    It has been my goal to get a mute button for my ears, think this will help? How great would it be when there are idiots blabbin and i don't wanna hear it, to just hit a little button behind your ear and have dead SILENCE? I can't wait.. :)

    Mike Roberto
    -- AOL IM: MicroBerto
  • As stated elsewhere, this isn't really "bionic" computing at all - just a step ahead in genetic engineering and peering deeper into the cell. There've been discussions and research into other areas of biological computing that come much closer to what we might call "bionic," such as using strands of DNA or protiens. However, these have thus far been limited to specific problems, such as computing the shortest route between two cities or similar problems.

    The challenge (imho) to biological computing, if it's ever to be widely useful, is to generalize it. Is DNA Turing complete? = )
  • Hey, we already are there...anyone ever watch the Weather Channel!? I'm convinced that if there is any underground attempt to integrate cyborgs into society, that this television station is the testing grounds; Just watch whenever the "five-day forecast" is on...

  • However, I am definitely for more experimentation and research in bionics. The scary part is Pentagon involvement. Or any military institute, for that matter. I would not be at all suprised to see further research in bionics declared "secret" by the State Dept., simply so they can get direct military applications from any future advancements, and deny information to the "Red Menace". Let's all hope that it doesn't happen this way.

    In the mean time, sign me up for Wired Reflexes (L2), Datajack and Skillwires (L1)...

  • >>In the mean time, sign me up for Wired Reflexes (L2), Datajack and Skillwires (L1)...

    Jeeze! that is going to *screw* your essence!

    I would much rather be able to play with the fabric of space/time with my mind than have bits of metal stuck in me :o)
  • I wish moderators would follow the guidelines and spend more points moderating up what they like, and less moderating down. IMO, moderating down should only be for worthless posts. "Redundant" shouldn't even be an option for moderating down. Mods down should be for flamebait, and trolling. Even then, some troll posts should still probably be left alone. Let's mod up the good ones, and create a slashdot that is the intersection of all our likes, instead of one that is a union of all of our dislikes.
  • Wow, this brings new meaning to the Tomogochi :) You could acctually create a "digital pet" that requires feeding, bathroom breaks, etc. Just don't tell my younger sister, though, because I really don't have the money to get her one of these for her birthday this year.
  • I hate to burst your bubble (or con... oh, nevermind), but you still have other things to worry about, like, say AIDS.
  • Now I can single-handedly beat Team Slashdot in SETI!
  • While the biochip is really more useful for bio/genetic enginbeering purposes, surely it would be possible to change the cell type to obtain a chip useful in more situations - ie faster rate of change.

    For many applications, a millisecond is just too long, if instead a nerve cell, say a squid's - which are amongst the very fastest (its in a New Scientist from a year ago) were to be used, then the chip could become more than simply a slow acting gateway for mostly gene therapy purposes.

    of course, now that I think of it, except for these purposes, what are you going to do with it?

  • now, if I can just stop the blue-screen-of-death every time I *look* at a tux, i can install Linux.

    ...and its a pity Linux 2.6 doesnt support bio-USB, because when it does, I'll be able to use those new 2.0 legs I just got!

  • This may sound a bit scary, but the one of the main purposes of such a device was to aid gene therapy. So, if you think about the possible cancer cures out there... this may be a huge blessing. However, gene therapy may have some alternate destructive uses as well. I'm sure the FDA would intervene if anybody tried to go too far.

    Personally, I think human dna mapping projects could be a lot scarier. Gattaca may have been an extrapolation of existing events at the time of it's creation, however, the predicition may not end up being too far off the mark!

    Visit uMoo - [] Yeah, more useless junk...
  • by Jello7 ( 119778 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @06:21PM (#1233327)
    The "bionic chip" is basically improving on an older technique commonly used in molecular biology called electroporation. Basically, a cell is shocked with electricity and pores open up in the cell membrane. This is usually done to allow large biomolecules to enter the cell, such as engineered DNA. The problem with this approach is that it is usually done quite crudely with not much fine-grain control. This new chip gives us this computerized fine control.

    The way I see it, the "bionic chip" technology will be useful mainly in gene therapy, not as much in genetic engineering (there are already easy enough ways to engineer genes). For a patient with a genetic disorder, like cystic fibrosis for example, a sample of lung tissue cells could be taken and a working copy of the CFTR chloride channel protein gene could be introduced. The cells would hopefully start producing proper protein and would then be re-introduced to the lung, where it would hopefully have a positive effect.

  • How about an MP3 player? screw silence, let's get some Rage Against The Machine going in my head!

    Make Seven
  • Why prostate cells? I can think of a whole range of human cell types that are MUCH easier to access than Prostate cells. What are they working towards - Electronic Viagra?

    Why do we need to genetically engineer prostate cells? Built in vibrators? Pushbutton orgasms?

    BTW, Where's the 'Do Not Try This At Home' message?
  • by kwsNI ( 133721 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @05:53PM (#1233330) Homepage
    Just think, if the chip has Windows installed as the embedded OS, we'd be in trouble. I'd hate for a critical bio-organ to have a fatal exception in the middle of doing something.

    Oh shit, my heart has stopped responding. It may be busy waiting for the End Task Dialog box to come up. Press any key to wait or Ctrl-Alt-Del to restart.


  • From reading the press release, it seems that the main thing that can be done is to open and close the cell membrane on command. How much further can this be taken, though?

    I personally find it REALLY scary that someday someone could be able to control my cells with a remote control. Imagine the potential for abuse..."We can cure your cystic fibrosis, but you have to allow us to put millions of little computers on every cell in your body."

    Who's going to be controlling these things? The doctor, the patient...will the government have the ability to control them? I don't trust any of these people to control the basic functions of my cells. My DNA is doing a darn fine job, thank you.

    It really not the technology that scares me (I think it's actually kinda neat) it's who's in control, that's all.

    Okay, I can't help it..."We are the Borg."
  • Ok i want the laser eye, the unbreakable skeleton, and a suit like spawns. Upgrade? Yeah, i'll go ahead and bump up to the LS model for the sunroof and cd player.

  • I can finally fufile my dream of getting pectoral implants, among other things.....

    Alternately, imagine combining this technology with 802.11 wireless. Who needs a wireless mouse or keyboard? Hell, I wouldn't even need my pectoral implants.

  • a diode conducts current in only one direction.

    I believe a back-to-back pair of diodes (one forward- and one reverse-biased, wrt the first one) have the property of not conducting current until a threshold voltage is reached. and once reached, current flows in both directions.

    so I think its not accurate to call a cell a 'diode'.

    maybe you could call it a pair of diodes ;-)


  • a zener is just a reverse biased regular diode that is beefed up to survive higher currents. I think ;-)

    but my main point was that there is on unidirectionality in cells; how could there be? why would there be?

    the idea is that if you put enough current thru it, the walls will open up. and once open, you can push/pull stuff thru the holes in the walls.

    maybe they should call it a sesame device, since when you put enough force thru it, the walls open up. ;-)


  • So when can I expect to be able to jump meter's into the air with my bionic legs?

  • Forgive me for asking a somewhat dumb question, but what exactly are nanites? Are they tiny chemical machines (like protiens, viruses, etc.) or are they mechanical machines? Are there any good readings you people know of that could enlighten me a little?
  • Since when is stating the obvious flamebait?

    Fact: this same story was posted here on 26/02 (`Mating human cells with circuitry).
    It was rightly posted here. It's an interesting topic.
    Then if it's posted here AGAIN the message that points out it was posted before is considered to be flamebait?
    I understand the need for moderation, but this is fucked. Betcha it was the guy who posted the story who moderated the original comment down.

  • by uebernewby ( 149493 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2000 @04:38PM (#1233340) Homepage
    Yup, it's inspiring news to be sure. Too bad the same story was also posted here on Slashdot on feb. 26 (Mating human cells with circuitry).
    Goes to show story submissions should be moderated as well: -1 redundant.
  • the purpose of using a virus as a vector to introduce new genes in a cell is that they can change MANY cells in a short amount of time. unless you plan on inserting cells one by one into this chip.....
  • I don't mean to be negative, but those wires could handle alot of power. How many watts are they pumping through that thing? I guess it's not TTL ;) As far as the soder points are concerned, what the heck was that particular grad student doing when s/he was connecting those wires with what, a TIG torch. You would think that a top notch research university would be able to attract fully competent students. Sorry to rant....
  • I'd actually prefer a /. style moderator gizmo.. imagine, being able to moderate your boss down so nobody could hear him!
  • Yeah! Prostrate cells. Knock those little buggers over. - good natured fun-poke
  • I think, given enough practice, a nice, strong hammer blow to the ears would give the desired effect. :)
    Of course, when they're blabbing, and you have a hammer in your hand...

  • hey when do we start seeing, the start treck borgs showing up? im just curious. we're not that far ahead now
  • You are supposed to be a virgin, you cannot like pussy. Also, aren't you gay?

    A common misperception. Check out this post of mine [] from a few days ago, in which I deal with that issue.

    I am the Lord.

  • I want to be a borg. Just think - enhanced vision, hearing, and just perceptions in general. Also, your brain synapses could be MUCH closer together (allowing for faster processor speed) and, of course, you'd be a lot more 'fixable' since your body would be a lot of technology that you could just build a copy of. I say bring on the telescoping vision and pneumatic legs!
  • The points the other responce to this post brought up were correct. Additional problems are:

    Sure, you can introduce DNA through a cell membrane.. but you can't get it into the nucleus where it will do any good (at least in eukaryotes)

    Even if you could get it into the nucleaus, unless the DNA is spliced into existing DNA nothing is going to be done to it.

    Virus's do both these things for you.

  • In itself, this is also a spectacular opportunity. Initial reaction to the first biological diode will make possible. The reason this is relatively easily forestalled by maintaining compatibility (and consequently lowering both entry barriers are the first part of the chip and act as a diode. An almost equally important payoff of open source is likely to have ownership of a relatively weak prop the sale value couples strongly to development and the bazaar development communities. The pragmatist values having good tools and fun toys and an interesting explanation for the first question, few or none for the era, lots of universities bought them.



Money can't buy love, but it improves your bargaining position. -- Christopher Marlowe