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Mar 29 2013

Biological computer!

Human might carry microscopic natural computers inside their cells that could guard against disease and warn of toxic threats. A team of engineers at Stanford university has invented genetic transistors, completing a simple computer within a living cell, a major step forward in the emerging field of synthetic biology. ‘Living computers’ inside the human body would be able to screen for cancer, detect toxic chemicals or even turn cell reproduction on and off. They say:

The computers could deliver true-false answers to virtually any biological question that might be posed within a cell. For instance: Is toxic mercury present? It could detect it.

Also: They can count. This would be a useful tool when treating diseases like cancer, where cells divide uncontrollably. Suppose a liver cell carries a counter that records how many times it divides. Once the counter hits 500, for instance, the cell could be programmed to die.

Wow! I want it inside my cells right now. Really.

So many things have been revolutionized. Scientists have been talking about biological computer and I have been dreaming about it for more than a decade. I wish synthetic biology could be revolutionized in my lifetime. I know this sounds unrealistic. I would probably be little sad if I have to die before using a little magical computer.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    Leiningen's Ants

    Sometimes, it feels like I’ve stepped inside of a William Gibson novel, reading science news.

    This is making me reconsider my investments in Ono-Sendai. Maas Biolabs seems to be where it’s at these days.

  2. 2
    Compuholic

    I wish synthetic biology could be revolutionized in my lifetime. I know this sounds unrealistic.

    I wouldn’t say that it is unrealistic. It is just hard to predict how long it will take. Even though computer science is a relatively young field it has produced many technological and cultural revolutions within a single life-time.

    It is not too long ago since the transistor was invented. In combination with the technology to manufacture integrated circuits it made computers small and cheap. Nowadays we take personal computers for granted which is really amazing when you think about it. It just has been 40 years since the first PC has hit the market and todays PCs are many million times faster than the first models. We are now at a point where even the chip in your bank card has many times the memory and speed of the computer that took the astronauts to the moon.

    Or the internet. It became popular just 15-20 years ago. Look what it has become since. Or what is currently happening with cell phones. You can think of many more such revolutions. I would not be that quick to judge whether this is unrealistic.

    1. 2.1
      Taslima Nasreen

      Well said.

  3. 3
    Leiningen's Ants

    Is it not too late to hope for biology, to give us 400 extra years?

  4. 4
    Ted Powell

    Suppose a liver cell carries a counter that records how many times it divides. Once the counter hits 500, for instance, the cell could be programmed to die.

    I’d sooner go with the existing mechanism, coordinated by the cell’s mitochondria. Its performance has been honed over hundreds of millions of years of evolution.

    See Life Ascending : The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane. W.W. Norton ISBN 978-0-393-33866-9 pbk. Programmed cell death and much more is described in Chapter 10, Death.

  5. 5
    creativepeptides

    Another step into the world of cyborgs, not necessarily a bad thing.

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