E. coli and the ability to program biological cells
Researchers at the University of California San Francisco have engineered E. coli with the “key molecular circuitry that will enable genetic engineers to program cells to communicate and perform computations.” It’s a way to program biological activity the way computers are programmed. All those 1’s and 0’s that make up programs for the software we use are the same logic operations in cellular computation. Researcher Christopher Voigt says:
“We think of electronic currents as doing computation, but any substrate can act like a computer, including gears, pipes of water, and cells,” Voigt said. “Here, we’ve taken a colony of bacteria that are receiving two chemical signals from their neighbors, and have created the same logic gates that form the basis of silicon computing.”
“The purpose of programming cells is not to have them overtake electronic computers,” explained Voigt, whom Scientist magazine named a “scientist to watch” in 2007 and whose work is included among the Scientist’s Top 10 Innovations of 2009. “Rather, it is to be able to access all of the things that biology can do in a reliable, programmable way.”
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