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Shrinking Machines, Cellular Computers


logic gates in bacteria, illustration

Credit: Biodesign Institute

Since research in synthetic biology began nearly two decades ago, the field has expanded beyond its original mandate of using engineering principles to study and manipulate cells. Today, scientists are building biological computers and DNA-based robots that can carry out logical operations and complete tasks.

These miniscule machines look nothing like laptops or Roombas. Yet, algorithms still guide the robots through tasks, and the biological computers funnel inputs through logic gates. While a standard circuit works with electrical currents, though, the inputs in the biological version are biochemical signals triggered by presence of a protein or pathogen. The outputs, in turn, are another set of biochemical signals that trigger cellular responses, such as the activation of a gene.


 

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