— Current computers consist of metal, plastic, wires
and transistors. The manner in which they process
information is called linear because they conduct
one computation at a time. In the latest generation
of computers, biological molecules replace all the
components. One advantage of these biomolecular computers
over linear computers is their ability to simultaneously
carry out an enormous number of complex operations.
A new version of a biomolecular
computer developed at the Technion-Israel Institute
of Technology – composed entirely of DNA molecules
and enzymes – outdoes even the fastest of its kind.
It can perform as many as a billion different programs
simultaneously. Previous biomolecular computers, such
as the one built by a joint team from the Technion
and the Weizmann Institute of Science three years
ago, were limited to just 765 simultaneous programs.
This new computer is also autonomous;
it processes calculations from beginning to end without
any human assistance. Other biomolecular computers
require humans to analyze and decipher results and
perform intermediate tasks at different points in
the process before the computer can complete the operation.
"A final innovation is
the incorporation of a gold-coated chip, which allows
simple, real-time readout of the results," said
lead researcher Professor Ehud Keinan of the Technion
Faculty of Chemistry. He explained that results produced
by current biomolecular computers can only be analyzed
by using elaborate techniques that include separating
and sorting molecules according to size and the use
of radioactive materials.
The development of the Technion’s
biomolecular computer is reported in the March 2005
Journal of the American Chemical Society.
One of the most promising applications
for such autonomous molecular computers would be the
encryption of images. Images could be encrypted on
a chip containing the equivalent of 41million pixels
so that deciphering them would be impossible to those
without access to a secret key comprised of several
short DNA molecules and several enzymes. Only the
image’s creator, of course, would know this. Government
agencies, military, and the financial sector could
utilize such encryption techniques. Another benefit
of such high pixelization: unmatched image quality
and detail. By comparison, the highest quality image
from a professional grade, 6-megapixel digital camera
is comprised of "just" 6 million pixels.
Keinan and his team will now
focus their efforts on creating more sophisticated
biomolecular computers, including ones whose final
outputs are actual biological functions. This would
make possible the aforementioned encryption methods,
as well as disease detection and treatment.
The research was carried out
with Technion graduate students Michal Soreni, Sivan
Yogev, Elizaveta Kossoy, and Prof. Yuval Shoham of
the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering.
The Technion-Israel Institute
of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology
university. Home to the country’s only winners of
the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide
reputation for its pioneering work in computer science,
biotechnology, water-resource management, materials
engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority
of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech
companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the
American Technion Society is the leading American
organization supporting higher education in Israel,
with 17 offices around the country.