Genetic computers a little bit closer

The search for new platforms for computing took a small but potentially significant step forward when scientists revealed that they had developed bacteria that can be used to solve mathematical problems.

The research team at Davidson College and Missouri Western State University used the genetic code of E. coli bacterium as a means of solving a classic mathematical problem – the so-called ‘Burnt Pancake Problem’. They introduced genes from other bacteria in such a way that each strain represented a possible solution to the problem. The bacteria were then exposed to an antibiotic that would destroy all but the bacteria whose genetic code represented the correct solution.

“The system offers several potential advantages over conventional computers,” says research leader Dr Karmella Haynes. “A single flask can hold billions of bacteria, each of which could potentially contain several copies of the DNA used for computing.”

“These ‘bacterial computers’ could act in parallel with each other, meaning that solutions could potentially be reached more quickly than with conventional computers, using less space and at a lower cost,” Haynes adds.

Meanwhile, Japanese researchers have claimed a breakthrough in the last futuristic vision of computing, namely quantum computing. A joint project between Japanese telco NTT and Osaka University has managed to teleport a proton representing data between two sub-atomic regions.

This has revived hopes of scalable quantum computing, following last year’s greatly exaggerated reports of a commercially viable quantum computer.

Still, at this rate of progress, silicon’s dominance does not appear to be in too much trouble.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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