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Biotech Hardware

How the Emerging Science of Proteotronics Will Change Electronics 29

Posted by timothy
from the peanut-butter-in-your-chocolate dept.
KentuckyFC (1144503) writes "The study of proteins has become one of the hottest topics in science in the last 20 years, and not just for biologists. Researchers have been measuring the electrical properties of proteins for some time, discovering that some of them act like switches in certain circumstances. That's potentially useful but without a robust theoretical model of how these properties arise, nobody has been able to incorporate proteins into real devices. Now electronics engineers have developed the first model that reliably describes the real electrical behaviour of proteins and how it changes when they bond to other molecules. It even predicts the behaviour in new situations. That should make it possible to use proteins in the same way as other electronic components such as transistors, diodes and so on. That's leading to an entirely new field of science called proteotronics in which proteins work seamlessly with other components in electronic devices. First up, an electronic nose based on the olfactory receptor OR-17, a protein found in rats, which behaves like an electronic switch when it detects the presence of aldehydes such as octanal."
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How the Emerging Science of Proteotronics Will Change Electronics

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  • That following the advice and replacing "safety" with "has potential safety implications" will have a disastrous result>

    has potential has potential has potential has potential has potential has potential ..... implications implications implications implications implications implications

  • by RandCraw (1047302) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:29AM (#47046655)

    If e-proteins can augment electronic devices biologically, can they also augment biological systems electronically? They seem like a natural interface between biological and electrical materials -- perfect for constructing a cyborg. Or if made small enough, they could bypass DNA to synthesize (or inhibit) the right proteins at just the right time, thereby curing disease.

    You could basically rewire and/or reprogram any part of an organism at any level: subcellular (e.g. metabolic control networks), tissue, immune, neural, etc. You could add intelligent controls where there are none or override controls already present.

    This kind of thing also seems an ideal medium for building junctions between nerves and muscles.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This kind of thing also seems an ideal medium for building junctions between nerves and muscles.

      If you can keep the body from destroying them.

    • I think you're on the right track but interfacing directly with human cells is the wrong approach, at least initially. I would say we should focus on getting bacteria fully programmable. After all, they are ubiquitous in our own bodies. If we can control them, we can indirectly control our own cells. This would be a much safer method, as there could be programmed in fail-safes that destroy the bacteria if needed. You wouldn't want to do that with your cells.
      • by RandCraw (1047302)

        Good point. Self destruction of errant (or sabotaged) mobile e-devices seems like a very good idea.

        Maybe these bacteria could be programmed with a specific behavior, like follow a signal to travel to a specific part of the body, then measure something or deliver a payload. Then self-destruct.

        Sounds like "Fantastic Voyage"...

  • by Goldsmith (561202) on Tuesday May 20, 2014 @10:38AM (#47046751)

    I suppose I was one of the early pioneers in this field, I didn't know it had a name. A few years ago we published a paper on attaching three different olfactory receptors to carbon nanotube transistors and exposing the resulting devices to a half dozen or so chemicals while monitoring the responses. We were trying to produce something which was more usable (i.e. real-time) than the electrochemical methods described in TFA (to be clear, TFA describes very good work, we just had a different approach).

    I wouldn't say this is a field which is taking off. It is significantly difficult to combine proteins with electronics. There are very, very few people/research groups who have the combination of abilities and experience to make these devices and properly interpret the results. More often than not, researchers perform laboratory, one-off measurements they can understand, but have no relevance to modern electronics or systems usable outside of the lab they were built in. Another common issue is performing measurements you don't understand, coming to conclusions that are wrong and sending the field off in a useless direction. It is very, very difficult to both build a good experiment AND properly interpret the results. The physics/chemistry guys don't understand the biology and the biologists don't understand the physics/chemistry. It can take many years to just learn to talk to eachother and stop assuming that "standard" processes, assumptions and statistics are applicable. Getting funding for this stuff can be a challenge, because no one really has claimed this field and none of the funding agencies (in the US, at least) seem to understand it. There are a handful of senior academics who can do this stuff, and a growing number of mid-career guys like me, but we're still a very small group.

    If people are interested in what's going on with this field, I would recommend looking up the work of Phil Collins at UC Irvine, Ethan Minot at Oregon State and Charlie Johnson at University of Pennsylvania. I'm sure there are other good groups out there, but I know those guys are good.

  • Protein based computers are vulnerable to alien cheeses.

    "Get this cheese to Sickbay!"

    • by Anonymous Coward

      the gel packs always get infected on Voyager...

  • Chips I buy work from -40 to 125C. What about proteins? I can't wait to see the specs for those: Temp range: 30-40C pH range: 6.8-7.2

The use of anthropomorphic terminology when dealing with computing systems is a symptom of professional immaturity. -- Edsger Dijkstra

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