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DNA Strands Modified Into Tiny Fiber-Optic Cables 113

Posted by kdawson
from the bright-idea dept.
holy_calamity writes "New Scientist reports on the latest idea from researchers trying to make microcomputers use photons in place of electrons — to make optical interconnects from strands of DNA. Mixing DNA strands with the right dye molecule upgrades them into wires for light, like microscopic optical fibers, able to absorb photons at one end and transmit them to the other. One of the neat things about using DNA is it is the right scale to play nicely with existing and future chip lithography. Quoting: 'The result is similar to natural photonic wires found inside organisms like algae, where they are used to transport photons to parts of a cell where their energy can be tapped. In these wires, chromophores are lined up in chains to channel photons.'"
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DNA Strands Modified Into Tiny Fiber-Optic Cables

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  • Robots (Score:5, Funny)

    by pipatron (966506) <pipatron@gmail.com> on Friday November 14, 2008 @09:11AM (#25759399) Homepage
    Ok great, yeah, give the robots DNA too. Like we'll have any chance now.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by grimmfarmer (529600)
      Worse, yet: will hard-up DNA farmers now begin selling their crops at a premium to industry, diverting crucial DNA from where it's needed most: the third world?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Smivs (1197859)

      I for one will welcome the arrival of our photon-brained cyborg overlords.

    • by Cyanara (708075)
      It's cool, it's cool. We'll just make them all female and irradiate the reproductive organs so they can't breed. Just as long as we don't use frog DNA...
  • Right scale... (Score:2, Interesting)

    Hmmm...I'm no biologist, but I'll bet it's the right scale for human-implanted computing. Wow. Be afraid...very afraid...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by elp (45629)

      You be afraid. I can't wait. Oh the trans-humanity!

    • How exactly does implanting optic wires into your brain do anything except give you a possible headache.

      We have had electrodes for ages, so anyone wanting to create a brain-computer interface already had the tech. Oooh, and they already done it.

      Mind you, you are the perfect sample for my next paper. "Tinfoil-hats linked to permanent brain damage."

      • Are you kidding? Yeah, it's been done using current technology, but to date there isn't one that isn't some clunky, oversized, borg-looking construction that requires an impractical amount of power. We need a "transitor" of the man-machine interface, something compact, efficient and reliable, and this looks like a step in the right direction. Or are you going to tell me since we've had vacuum tubes and wires for ages, we never should have moved on from ENIAC?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Dun Malg (230075)

          Are you kidding? Yeah, it's been done using current technology, but to date there isn't one that isn't some clunky, oversized, borg-looking construction that requires an impractical amount of power. We need a "transitor" of the man-machine interface, something compact, efficient and reliable, and this looks like a step in the right direction.

          The brain communicates chemically/electrically. A way to turn DNA strands into optical fiber isn't a step anywhere NEAR the direction of interfacing with the human brain.

          • by spazdor (902907)

            It's a step in the direction of distributing signals across disparate parts of the brain without disturbing the brain itself. Sure, at the end of the fiber we'd have to have a device which turns some light into electricity [wikipedia.org] but if they can get the light there using a single molecular chain, that means they can fit more of 'em into your skull without displacing your invaluable brainmeats.

    • I'm no biologist, but I'll bet it's the right scale for human-implanted computing.

      I'm no... er... bio-computerist... person... but if you had naked DNA strands running through your body linking computers or something like that, they wouldn't last very long. For one thing, they'd get broken just by moving around. Also, this YO they need to add onto DNA strands actually interacts with the DNA. I don't know if it would be able to penetrate your cell nuclei to interact with your own DNA, but if it did that would increase your risk of cancer.

      So... yes, be afraid, because not only would it

  • This will be the beginning of the Cylons..
  • Damn! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14, 2008 @09:20AM (#25759465)

    We had this ability already built into our biology and we instead use chemical signals for our nervous system? It is a pity we didn't have an intelligent designer (one with degrees in electrical engineering and physics).

    • Re:Damn! (Score:4, Funny)

      by Xerxes333 (116480) on Friday November 14, 2008 @09:45AM (#25759625) Homepage

      Perhaps the intelligent designer chose the "home" edition rather than the "professional" edition and we are in breach of some universal EULA.

    • by SinGunner (911891)
      Maybe we are the platform upon which he is designing. Program intelligently using new Human++ on Rails!
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday November 14, 2008 @09:22AM (#25759481)
    This is yet more evidence, if it was needed, that there is something about carbon chemistry that facilitates the emergence of life. Once you have a DNA or RNA molecule, organisation and replication of small molecules seems to emerge almost from nowhere. This evidence that even a concept as significant as photon collecting and channelling could emerge out of a largely self-organising process is quite extraordinary, because it starts to answer the objections of Creationists to, for instance, the evolution of light sensitivity. Given the sheer vastness of geological time, the range of environments on even a minor planet going around a mid-rank star, the opportunities for something to get started are enormous. It's a kind of corollary to Murphy's law: in a sufficiently large system, given long enough, practically anything possible is going to happen at some point.

    This of course is not evidence for or against any kind of theology in general, because theology is a much more diverse (and interesting) subject than the Creationists and IDers would have you believe. But it does look as though the question "how did life get started", which is vague and ill defined, is gradually resolving down to the question "under what circumstances can ribose nucleic acids form spontaneously, and how many other small molecules can we find which can spontaneously arrange themselves in the presence of ribose nucleic acids?" which is testable.

    • Light beings (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So, eventually this DNA fiber optics will evolve into beings that have nervous systems that operate at the speed of light and therefore can think at the speed of light? Which leads to them being vastly superior to us and them pushing us to extinction?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by MikeDirnt69 (1105185)
        Thinking fast doesn't mean thinking wisely. We don't have an AI level high enough to put on robots to make the smarter than us.
        • the AI level to make robots smarter than us?

          If we store a sufficient amount of morality code, replete with case-by-case deviations to spare the condemnable and condemn the innocent, and if we train these robots or computers to sit SIMULTANEOUSLY on hundreds of US and thousands of foreign nations' civil and criminal court proceedings, and teach the robots all we know about science, law, logic, crimes, and more, it's inevitable that within about 15 years these machines could corral our asses and threaten huma

          • I don't know what you had in your breakfast today, but you seem to be too bitter. I was talking about intelligence, not morality. We still can't make them smart/fast/strong enough to practice all this immorality you're talking about.
            • by davidsyes (765062)

              Maybe my breakfast was substandard rather than tainted with something. I kinda feel we *think* were all smart and cute, but that's relative to other life forms and things we observe. Any machines given intelligence (say, by other life forms eons ahead of us -- if they exist, that is --) can at some point just cut to the chase at solutions, whether intelligence or morality-based. We're driven by politics, economics, favoritism and more. I would assume intelligent machines would not be mired by such encumbran

      • This got me wondering so I looked it up. Apparently research has shown that it took a volunteer between 550 and 750 milliseconds [answerbag.com] to begin to understand a pictured object in tests. That's pretty quick, if not light-speed.

    • Carbon chemistry being extraordinarily well-suited for the emergence of complex systems, in particular life, is not exactly a new idea, though. Carbon chemistry simply offers the broadest range of thermodynamically stable, complex compounds. I'd go as far as to rule out any other chemical basis for life. Closest candidate would be possibly Silicon, but it still has a way too limited chemical flexibility to allow for the emergence of complexity, in my opinion.
      • by gilleain (1310105)

        I'd go as far as to rule out any other chemical basis for life.

        Agreed. I would go even further and suggest that DNA/RNA/protein are the only possibilities for living systems.

        Of course, chemical space is very large, but there is a relatively small subspace that is (bio)synthetically accessible. Further, there is an even smaller region that is self-synthetically accessible. Even more, there is a tiny part that can form spontaneously on a planet, self-synthesise, and evolve.

    • I created DNA for this express purpose. I'm from a planet near a place you call Fomalhaut, and I am the intelligent designer some of the more clever amongst you call the creator. Unfortunatly you are simply a bi-product of our search for the perfect computing system. Yes - you're an accident, sorry.
      • by DrYak (748999)

        Unfortunatly you are simply a b[y]-product of our search for the perfect computing system

        42 ! Fourty-two !

        The answers to the computations is "42" !
        See ? We're still good at computing.
        Now please remove your finger from the button labelled "destroy failed computing project in order to build a hyper-space by-pass on the free place"

    • by azcoyote (1101073)

      You mention theology, so I figure as a theologian I should give you a reply. To start, I do not have a stance on "creationism" or "intelligent design" as such because these considerations are ultimately secondary to the fundamental question of the ultimate origin and ground of being. I assume this is why you say that "theology is a much more diverse (and interesting) subject than the Creationists and IDers would have you believe."

      While you are correct that the natural propensity for DNA or RNA to promote or

  • by ServerIrv (840609)
    This gives new meaning to a man in the middle attack.
  • Who's DNA did they use? Does this mean we'll have a true Father or Mother of modern optical computing. And, if we continue down this line, how long before we are creating computers that blur the line between machine/organism. Or to sum it up...ZOMG!!!11!!!
    • by qmaqdk (522323)

      My guess would be a rats or a pigs DNA.

      I for one welcome our new animal modern optical computing overlords.

    • The article is -light- on details (ugh). If the DNA strand has to be of a specific base composition, then they probably made it themselves with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in a test tube. Also, proteins stuck on the DNA strand may have interfered with whatever YO is and whatever it was doing, PCR-generated DNA would also eliminate that problem.

      If associated proteins don't stop the signal and sequence doesn't matter, I suppose they could have gotten it from anywhere they wanted. Its easy to harvest a

  • Signal loss? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GogglesPisano (199483) on Friday November 14, 2008 @09:37AM (#25759573)

    As I understand it, fiber optic works because there is minimal signal (light) loss due to total internal reflection, which is a consequence of differences in the refractive indices of the glass and the cladding used in the fiber. Does the structure of DNA somehow support reflecting light in the same way? Pretty cool stuff.

    • Re:Signal loss? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday November 14, 2008 @11:12AM (#25760383) Homepage Journal

      These DNA "optical fibers" are made by inserting chromophores [wikipedia.org] into DNA strands. The DNA is the path between two points, a substrate on which to lay out a sequence of chromophores. The chromophore path can transfer photons from one chromophore to another. The light isn't "reflecting", its transmission is something like the inverse of internally refractive transmission through an optically transparent medium. Chromophores do form the path through which light travels, but this new publication doesn't specify the physical mechanism by which light is transmitted from one chromophore to another along the DNA. However, the chromophores are not a contiguous optically transparent medium, so they're not transferring the photons the way that familiar fiberoptics do, which depends on them acting as a contiguous optical medium.

      • If I follow this reply, the DNA strands are in essence infused with molecules that resonate light. So they're not conduits of minimal resistance like fiber, they are more like a series of acoustic relays at a molecular level. String them together tightly enough and they form optical conduits.
        • by Doc Ruby (173196)

          Not exactly. AFAICT, the "molecules that resonate light", are really chromophores, parts of a molecule, that are integrated into the DNA sequence as part of a single DNA molecule. The mechanism of transmitting light from chromophore to chromophore along the length of DNA isn't explained.

          But in glass optical fibers, "conduits of minimal resistance" isn't really a good description of the transmission. That optical medium is made of molecules that accept incoming photons, then emit outgoing photons, along the

  • Does this mean I can (eventually) get modified to shoot lasers from my eyes?

    or fingertips?

    • Lasers in your fingertips? But then every time someone was seen picking their nose it could be seen as an attempted suicide. My God! Think of what that would do to life insurance premiums you insensitive clod!
      • I am sure it would come with a power switch of some sort....

        Are laser pointers always on?

        I may be an insensitive clod, but you, sir are an unintelligent dork.

        Tomorrow, I can take sensitivity training, you.... well....

  • Photonic "wires" (Score:2, Interesting)

    Admittedly I can't be arsed to RTFA, but, hey, let's blabber on.

    I don't think the comparison with optic fibres is valid. This is no reflection phenomenon. The so-called natural optic wires are not reflection based, but rather a series of chromophores chained together. Photon transport is a series of absorption-emission-events channeling the energy down the chain.

    The same is most likely the case with this stuff. The light transport is no intrinsic property of the DNA, but rather of chromophores coupled t

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by gilleain (1310105)

      There are examples of biological optics:

      A small node on one example [everything2.com]

      • True, but the eyes you are using to read /. are an example for biological optics, too. That is out of the question. I am not aware of any biological "optic fibre"-type structures. Feel free to correct me if I am wrong, though - in my lab days I just pushed single proteins around, now I am just pushing paper around, so I am somewhat out of the loop.
        • by gilleain (1310105)
          Yes, that's why my link is about a biological "optical-fibre" example :) In short, it's about the 'Sea Mouse' which has chitin spines that are photonic band-gap crystals (I read - I'm a biologist, too, not a physicist).
    • Isn't all "bouncing" of light, and therefor fiber optics too, just a series of absorption-emission-events?
      Correct me if you know better, this is just a "didn't I read somewhere once that the same photon doesn't come back when it "reflects" off a mirror?" thing

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      You guessed right that the DNA is just the "scaffolding" determining paths of chromophores "doped" into the DNA along their paths. That the light is transmitted through the sequence of chromophores (though the article doesn't specify just what mechanism transmits the light along the chromophore trail).

      But that doesn't at all discount these structures from being counted as "optical fibers". They just introduce a new class of optical fibers that aren't a contiguous optically transparent medium the way glass f

  • for a CYBORG! cybernetic interfaces here we come.

  • by cynicsreport (1125235) on Friday November 14, 2008 @10:32AM (#25760015) Homepage
    These modified DNA strands seem to act more like the photosynthetic electron-transport system than they do optical fibers. In fact, one of the applications listed is "light harvesting in artificial photosynthetic systems." It is curious that TFA describes this as a fiber optics corollary.
    Fiber optics works based on the principles that photons will reflect off of a surface given a sufficient difference in refractive index and approach angle, allowing high-bandwidth communication. This new DNA photon transport system seems to have very little resemblance. I would guess that using DNA for communication would be very slow and very low bandwidth, to the point of being practically infeasible.
  • new plan, people (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jollyreaper (513215) on Friday November 14, 2008 @10:41AM (#25760095)

    1. Use DNA-based fiber-optics in the major backbones of the internet
    2. Spread rumor that the DNA comes from fetal stem cells from forcibly aborted babies, white christian babies!
    3. Watch right-wingers shut down their sites and flee the internet so they won't be taking part in the satanic evil of telecommunications.
    4. Remind them that their phone calls go over that same satanic fiber so they can't use phones, either.
    5. Gin up a new rumor that the power lines are being replaced by baby DNA fiber-optics, too, mail that to them in a chain letter.
    6. Watch them become the new Amish, shunning baby DNA-based demon technology, spinning their hate into hand-crafted quilts sold by the roadside.
    7. ??? Maybe if we're still feeling malicious, convince them buttons use baby DNA, too.
    8. Profit!

  • OK, but don't DNA strands decay when hit by any number of high-energy rays? Aren't they organic molecules that various organisms eat? Would we trading the benefits of using this molecule for a whole new set of failure types and the cost and weight of shielding?

    • by Adriax (746043)

      Gives an old meaning to the term virus, huh?
      Hackers will now use genetically engineered viruses to attack network links directly.

  • I have yet to see an opto-actuated opto-switch. I haven't been paying attention to the opto domain for a while, but this was the case the last time I was searching. Anyone here know a potential (pure opto) switch technology?
  • I can't wait until an employee sick with the cold or flu shows up to work, and their PC gets sick, infecting the whole network.

    Remember that Star Trek Voyager episode the Voyager's bioneural gel packs got sick, and the whole ship went haywire?

  • I was just thinking, if they actually wanted to implement this they would have to worry about G4 complexes. That would rule out long stretches of guanine-cytosine, which is a shame as they have a triple hydrogen bonding and would be much stronger for such applications. They could use adenine and thymine or possibly uracil as the bulk of the wire with infrequent GC pairs as reinforcement... something like 5'-(AAA GCG UUU AAA CGC UUU)n -3'

    It is doubtful that anyone will be putting these into living organisms.

  • âoeThe system goes online August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.â
  • Seeing the category definitely made me smile. Now just give me a laptop, and let me hack my own code.

To be a kind of moral Unix, he touched the hem of Nature's shift. -- Shelley

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