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Researchers Create Logic Circuits From DNA 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the growing-a-faster-computer dept.
separsons writes "Researchers at Duke University recently used DNA to craft tiny chips used in computers and electronic circuits. By mixing DNA snippets with other molecules and exposing them to light, researchers created self-assembling, DNA-based logic circuits. Once perfected the tech could serve as an endlessly abundant, cheap alternative to silicon semiconductors. Chris Dwyer, lead researcher on the project, says that one grad student using DNA to make self-assembling circuits could produce more logic circuits in one day than the global silicon chip industry can create in an entire month!"
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Researchers Create Logic Circuits From DNA

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  • by The Mysterious Dr. X (1502541) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:00PM (#32187674)
    All you need is a little polymerase chain reaction. I assume that's how the grad student could outdo the global silicon chip industry as mentioned in the article summary.
    • by h4rr4r (612664) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:05PM (#32187712)

      That and grad students can be made to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for nearly no pay.

      • by Sir_Lewk (967686)

        The grad student doesn't need to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (the no pay part is surprisingly easy to get a grad student to do though...). The DNA mechanisms that he sets up need to. Once he sets it up who is to say that this technology, once improved, won't be largely autonomous?

        • by Alphathon (1634555) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:40PM (#32187960)
          So this is how the robot apocalypse is to start eh? Well, I for one...you get the idea.
          • by Urkki (668283)

            So this is how the robot apocalypse is to start eh? Well, I for one...you get the idea.

            Indeed... Self-replicating DNA-based nanobots. It's got planet-scale disaster written all over it. It's not hard to imagine what a planet infested with such things might soon look like... A total mess covered in DNA-nanobot-goo.

            • Yeah, solar powered nano DNA based replicators. I can imagine those, I'll tell you that thing looks WILD!
            • by shiftless (410350)

              It's not hard to imagine what a planet infested with such things might soon look like...

              the worst part is when they begin to hunger for YOUR dna... hey i think i have an idea for a new horror movie

          • terminators, screamers, replicators, the borg, you always see a trace of whats to come with technology if you look close enough, we follow our dreams and ideas because a) we are influenced by other people and then take it to the next level cellphones = star trek like communicators....
            or 2) we get a great idea and it changes hands and processes so many times that we have a spawn of unlimited amounts to clutter our world with ...example = the car, started off as a means to get you from point a to point b, and

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          The PCR part is already largely autonomous. Throw all the ingredients into the mix, heat it up to a certain temperature in a warm bath, cool it off, heat it up again, cool it off again... You get the idea. Each cycle doubles the amount of DNA produced. All you have to do is make sure there's enough ingredients in the mix; most versions of the equipment can do the heating-cooling cycles themselves.
      • by John Whitley (6067) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:14PM (#32187790) Homepage

        This has certainly been the case in some disciplines, at some institutions. But it's much less common in disciplines where graduate students already have significant hiring potential (e.g. Computer Science), and doesn't happen at all where they've unionized.

        Unionization of graduate students actually happened while I was in grad school myself. It stopped some appalling abuses dead in their tracks. My department was an excellent one to work for, but many were pretty slimy. Not only were grads in some departments terribly overworked, but some shady practices were going on where hiring lines were split between several grads who were each doing overtime level work.

        • by anarche (1525323)

          This has certainly been the case in some disciplines, at some institutions. But it's much less common in disciplines where graduate students already have significant hiring potential (e.g. Computer Science)

          Really, then why can't I get a friggen job!!!

          • by X0563511 (793323)

            Nobody can! WHOOP WHOOP!

            • by aussie_a (778472)

              I did. I'm not exactly the brightest bulb from the factory. If I can get a job, pretty much anyone can. That said, I applied for 47 jobs within a 3 month period. Most people I graduated haven't even reached double digits in jobs they've applied for. Unsurprisingly, most of the people I graduated with also aren't employed.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Sulphur (1548251)

        If this stuff became sentient, then would it think it was a grad student?

        • by AP31R0N (723649)

          As impressive as it would be to create a sentient life form it would be useless as a grad student until it achieved sapience.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Compaqt (1758360)

      I, for one, welcome our new Cylon overlords.

    • The 1.2 zettabytes quoted recently as the sum of the world's memory works out as about 1/8th of a gram-mole of bits. This does give an idea how much memory you might get from a few grammes of material if you get a 3D structure. If you are stuck to a single surface, the density figures won't be as good. Richard Feynmann gave a talk in 1959 called "Plenty of room at the bottom" (see http://www.zyvex.com/nanotech/feynman.html [zyvex.com]). His figures haven't really aged much: if you can get something to work at the molec
  • Johnny 5 (Score:2, Funny)

    by sexconker (1179573)

    Johnny 5 is alive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:00PM (#32187680)

    Chris Dwyer, lead researcher on the project, says that one grad student using DNA to make self-assembling circuits could produce more logic circuits in one day than the global silicon chip industry can create in an entire month!"

    Which grad student?

  • by conner_bw (120497) * on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:01PM (#32187682) Homepage Journal

    It's a about two nerds who get lost while travelling in Germany. On a dark and rainy night, their car breaks down. Looking for help, they end up knocking at the door of a creepy mad scientist obsesed with Nanotechnology.

    I call it "The Human Semiconductor"

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:03PM (#32187692) Homepage

    one grad student using DNA to make self-assembling circuits could produce more logic circuits in one day than the global silicon chip industry can create in an entire month!

    The jokes just write themselves.

  • by Locke2005 (849178) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @07:07PM (#32187720)
    thus giving a whole new meaning to the term "computer virus"!
    • by youn (1516637)

      well as long as they don't get windows ported to the DNA processor, we should be fine. but I guess it wouldn't suck as much as having OSX ported to DNA... you'd have to have AT&T be your carrier (would that be in human term be a wheel chair?)... unless you jailbrake... but wouldn't that get into matrix like scenarios? maaan, sounds like a crazy problem potentially, what could potentially go wrong?

  • Lead Researchers (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    And lead researchers would never overstate the impact of their research, would they?

    The job of those of us doing research is to make large claims and have BIG RESULTS! Most of us are all for the research, but tired of the need for justification that involves serious overstatement. Just saying....

    • sure, one day v. 1 year of chip making is a bit of an overstatement. But if this is perjected, computer technology will certainly be on its way to becoming yet smaller, faster, and better. However, no matter how efficiently we make things, it will never be cheaper. Why? Because they will just mark it up even higher than whats already out there to make more money. And when asked "if they are so cheap to make, why don't you sell that are more reasonable prices" they will say "to cover 'costs'" which will b

  • Tsch, Jesus did this like 100 years ago.
  • Bio-neural gel packs SOUND like a good idea, but when cheese can take a federation starship out of commission, I start wondering about how good an idea this is to pursue.
    • Yes. Star Trek:Voyager taught us many, many things - all dealing with how to kill a formerly great franchise.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by EdIII (1114411)

        You Sir are a cretin... I give you Seven-Of-Nine.....

        I don't remember one damn episode after all this time, but I can recall every single stitch of her costume.........

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Cryacin (657549)

      but when cheese can take a federation starship out of commission

      Brings a whole new definition to turning your brain into swiss cheese!

    • by n dot l (1099033)

      Voyager also teaches us that aliens are basically humans with a good costume department.

      I'd be more worried about space-based asteroid-eating critters deciding they should nibble on the hull. Those would at least be in an environment that's vaguely similar to the one they evolved in.

      Alien cheese culture finding our particular chemistry tasty, our particular temperature and pH range livable, and having means to evade our immune responses is pretty damn unlikely...

  • LOGIC, n. The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and incapacities of the human misunderstanding. The basic of logic is the syllogism, consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion — thus: Major Premise: Sixty men can do a piece of work sixty times as quickly as one man. Minor Premise: One man can dig a posthole in sixty seconds; therefore — Conclusion: Sixty men can dig a posthole in one second. This may be called the syllogism arithmetical,
  • Literally, that is.

    And a chance for radically different model names. For example, the slowest DNA-based model will be called "cousin Jed" or something.

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      Literally, that is.

      And a chance for radically different model names. For example, the slowest DNA-based model will be called "cousin Jed" or something.

      Are you sure it isn't Jethro?

  • Ok, so we have a nice way of creating logic gates in DNA. But how long does it take to read the entire string of results back to a digital/electronic format?

    • by imgod2u (812837)

      I think the point is you don't have to. One chromospore emits light that is received by another chromospore, which then transmits it to another. Each time, the wavelength of light changes.

      Problem being, this isn't a 3-terminal gating effect. I'm having a difficult time imagining how they make logic gates from this.

  • Hmmm. I'm thinking these DNA based gates would be fussy, needing a comfy environment to run in.
    Also, how many cycles can they handle before falling apart?
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @08:17PM (#32188220)

    As Turing might say: What a load of cobblers

    While you might be able to make ten gazillion AND gates, you still have the minor problem of HOOKING THEM UP into some useful logical building blocks, like adders, buffers, and memory. And the bigger problem of amplifying the results to a level acceptable to the following inputs. And figuring out how to distribute power (ATP) to each amplifier.

    And the signal levels are so low, thermal noise is going to induce a lot more errors than you'd like.

    And the speed is not likely to be very exciting.

    I would not start short-selling Intel stock based on this technology.

    • Depending on the use speed might not be a big issue if you can build the circuits for 100,000th the cost...
      • by EdIII (1114411)

        Maybe so, but you would need some pretty damn good error correction. I would imagine running the same calculation many many times to check you were getting the same result.

        This is an organic system we are talking about. Correct me if I am wrong, but organic systems are all about approximation and adaptation, not exact values.

    • The article was about using DNA to build logic gates and processor pieces that were very small, on the order of just a few molecules, kind of like DNA making proteins. The next step is putting these elements together to build circuitry. DNA already puts together insane life forms that have millions of parts all working together. We are made using DNA. It is not our primary ingredient, but DNA builds us. That is the goal here, build circuits.

    • The advantaje of using DNA is that it hooks toghether with just the addition of an enzyme. You can also control what hooks on what by controlling the sequence, and it is easy to manufacture on any sequence you want (for some value of "easy").

      That said, that is not the first time it was tried. The problem here is that using some DNA that is pure for a few parts per billion (the best we can achieve on big amounts) to manufacture one a few trillion switches big circuit (like the original Pentium at the 90's) w

  • TFA may be found here [popsci.com.au].
  • For some reason this has got me thinking of a Sci-fi book I read when I was a kid - Virus, by Molly Brown [goodreads.com] which talks about AIs that have an organic "logic" core and are susceptible to biological viruses. Good SF for young readers.

  • Heat (Score:4, Interesting)

    by izomiac (815208) on Wednesday May 12, 2010 @09:01PM (#32188486) Homepage
    This sounds quite promising, but I'd worry about DNA's melting point. Double stranded DNA will melt and become single stranded DNA at around 100 degrees Celsius. However, this melting point is quite variable since GC bonds are ~50% stronger than AT bonds, so the actual melting point could be much higher or much lower. AFAIK doing any sort of calculation requires heat to be produced, so I'd imagine you'd get localized melting of the DNA and disruption of the engineered structure if you did any significant amount of work on it. I'll be interested to see how they solve this problem, since you can't really do much to increase the strength or the number of hydrogen bonds.
    • They probably didn't solve it, since they did no usefull calculation. They just assembled a few switches.

      I also doubt they were able to focus the light emanating from a switch into another one, to chain operations.

    • by rdnetto (955205)

      Hey, if they can get a decent amount of computational power out of it, it would probably be economically feasible even if you had to run it in a fridge.

  • Ah, finally low-NRE logic circuits on an immense and cheap scale a la programmable logic, but with real (not emulated) logic gates. EEs of the world unite!
  • It's typical to overhype and exaggerate results like this. What's interesting is if it really is that easy to make reliable, robust, defect free logic circuits so easy, would it be a good thing or a bad thing economically. I'd certainly be out of a job if a grad student could magically mix up an SOC complete with electrical interconnects and packaging while his/her advisor slowly whittles away at his/her self esteem

  • Maybe Chris could demonstrate a working logic device that doesn't rely on expensive optical components to provide the input and output (he's making optical devices, not electrical - because DNA doesn't conduct). His speed, scalability, cost... everything is dependent on the optics system he uses. It's borderline dishonest for him to sell this as a silicon replacement right now.

    His waffles look nice though. Very tasty. I've seen that image many times now...

    • The I/O isn't a problem for some applications (really big computers). I'm more concerned about they not demonstrating any usefull gate (besides NOT) and not demonstrating those being assembled on a chain.

      But they didn't show it because they aren't really trying to produce circuits. They are doing some research that could lead to another way to produce circuits on the future, if everything works as planned and somebody solves the remaining problems (that happen to be quite hard). Or, in other words, that isn

  • So this gives a whole new meaning to the phrase?

With all the fancy scientists in the world, why can't they just once build a nuclear balm?

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