In terms of speed and size, however, DNA computers surpass conventional computers. While scientists say silicon chips cannot be scaled down much further, the DNA molecule found in the nucleus of all cells can hold more information in a cubic centimeter than a trillion music CDs. A spoonful of Shapiro's "computer soup" contains 15,000 trillion computers. And its energy-efficiency is more than a million times that of a PC.
While a desktop PC is designed to perform one calculation very fast, DNA strands produce billions of potential answers simultaneously. This makes the DNA computer suitable for solving "fuzzy logic" problems that have many possible solutions rather than the either/or logic of binary computers. In the future, some speculate, there may be hybrid machines that use traditional silicon for normal processing tasks but have DNA co-processors that can take over specific tasks they would be more suitable for.
Doctors in a Cell
Perhaps most importantly, DNA computing devices could revolutionize the pharmaceutical and biomedical fields. Some scientists predict a future where our bodies are patrolled by tiny DNA computers that monitor our well-being and release the right drugs to repair damaged or unhealthy tissue.
"Autonomous bio-molecular computers may be able to work as 'doctors in a cell,' operating inside living cells and sensing anomalies in the host," said Shapiro. "Consulting their programmed medical knowledge, the computers could respond to anomalies by synthesizing and releasing drugs."
DNA computing research is going so fast that its potential is still emerging. "This is an area of research that leaves the science fiction writers struggling to keep up," said Hawksett from the Guinness World Records.
A summary of the research conducted by scientists at the Weitzmann Institute of Science is published in today's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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