Biological computer reads encrypted logos

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute and the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology have developed a ‘biological computer’ – made entirely from biomolecules – that can encrypt and decipher images.

When the right software was used, it could decrypt, separately, fluorescent images of the Scripps Research Institute and Technion logos encrypted on DNA chips.

Every computer has four components — hardware, software, input, and output.

“In contrast to electronic computers, there are computing machines in which all four components are nothing but molecules,” says Keinan.

“For example, all biological systems and even entire living organisms are such computers. Every one of us is a biomolecular computer, a machine in which all four components are molecules that ‘talk’ to one another logically.”

The input is a molecule that undergoes specific, predetermined changes, following a specific set of rules -software – and the output is another molecule.

Various small DNA molecules are mixed in solution with certain DNA enzymes and ATP – the energy source of the device. By varyingthe type of DNA and enzymes in the mix, scientists can fine-tune the process to a desired result.

Although each computing step is slower than the flow of electrons in an electronic computer, the fact that trillions of such chemical steps are done in parallel makes the entire computing process fast.

“Considering the fact that current microarray technology allows for printing millions of pixels on a single chip, the numbers of possible images that can be encrypted on such chips is astronomically large,” says Kienan.

“Also, as shown in our previous work and other projects carried out in our lab, these devices can interact directly with biological systems and even with living organisms. No interface is required since all components of molecular computers, including hardware, software, input, and output, are molecules that interact in solution along a cascade of programmable chemical events.”