Scientists at the Imperial College London just announced that they have discovered a way to build digital devices out of bacteria and DNA. The breakthrough could one day create the building blocks needed for microscopic biological computers that can do everything from deliver medications to single out and eradicate cancer cells.
The researchers found a way to build logic gates out of gut bacteria and DNA. Logic gates are used for processing information in modern gadgets, and they are the fundamental building blocks that all digital devices are based on.
There has been plenty of research made into organic logic gates, but they only proved that the gates could be made. Imperial College’s study takes the findings one step further, showing gates that behave more like electronics, meaning they can be switched “on” or “off” in a controlled manner.
Professor Richard Kitney, co-author of the paper, Nature Communications, from the Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation and the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, wrote:
“Logic gates are the fundamental building blocks in silicon circuitry that our entire digital age is based on. Without them, we could not process digital information. Now that we have demonstrated that we can replicate these parts using bacteria and DNA, we hope that our work could lead to a new generation of biological processors, whose applications in information processing could be as important as their electronic equivalents.”
The research is still in its early stages, but the team believes that biological logic gates could be used to create everything from devices that swim inside arteries and clean plaque, preventing heart attacks, to sensors that would be able to detect and neutralize environmental pollution and toxins that could harm the body .
The scientists’ logic gate – called the “AND Gate” – was built from E.Coli. The team altered the bacteria with modified DNA and reprogrammed it to turn “on” and “off” like a gadget by stimulating it with chemicals. The gates are also modular in construction, meaning that they can be combined to create different and more complex types of logic gates. Over the next stages of their research, the team will try to develop more complex circuitry that is composed of multiple logic gates, with the goal of eventually building full-fledged processors.