Computer scientists at University of California, Davis, Maynooth University in Ireland and the California Institute of Technology have created DNA molecules that can self-assemble into patterns essentially by running their own program.
“The ultimate goal is to use computation to grow structures and enable more sophisticated molecular engineering,” said David Doty, assistant professor of computer science at UC Davis and co-first author on the paper.
The system is analogous to a computer, but instead of using transistors and diodes, it uses molecules to represent a six-bit binary number (for example, 011001). The team developed a variety of algorithms that can be computed by the molecules.
The researchers were able to design and run 21 algorithms over the course of the experiments, demonstrating the potential of the system, he said.
Two of the four domains on each tile are “input,” and two “output.” In an electronic diode, transistor or logic gate, a value of 0 or 1 at the input (or inputs) will give a known value at the output.
The team was able to demonstrate algorithms for a variety of tasks, including counting exercises, random walks and drawing patterns such as zigzags, diamonds and a double helix in the DNA.
“It’s a great gift the molecular biologists have given us computer scientists,” he said.