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Caltech Researchers Build Largest Biochemical Circuit Out of Small Synthetic DNA Molecules

DNA wiring diagram

A wiring diagram specifying a system of 74 DNA molecules that constitute the largest synthetic circuit of its type ever made. The circuit computes the square root of a number up to 15 and rounds down to the nearest integer (the discrete square root of a f

Image courtesy of Caltech/Lulu Qian

California Institute of Technology (Caltech) researchers say they have built the most complex biochemical circuit ever created out of DNA-based devices. "We're trying to borrow the ideas that have had huge success in the electronic world, such as abstract representations of computing operations, programming languages, and compilers, and apply them to the biomolecular world," says Caltech's Lulu Qian.

Qian, who worked with Caltech professor Erik Winfree, used a new kind of DNA-based component to build the largest artificial biochemical circuit ever made. The researchers' approach involves standardized components, which enables the system to be more complex but still work reliably.

"We want to make better and better biochemical circuits that can do more sophisticated tasks, driving molecular devices to act on their environment," Qian says.

The researchers used pieces of DNA to make logic gates, which receive and produce molecules as signals. The molecular signals travel between specific gates, connecting the circuit as if they were wires. The largest circuit the researchers made contains 74 different DNA molecules and can compute the square root of any number up to 15 and round down the answer to the nearest integer.

"Like Moore's Law for silicon electronics, which says that computers are growing exponentially smaller and more powerful every year, molecular systems developed with DNA nanotechnology have been doubling in size roughly every three years," Winfree says.

From California Institute of Technology
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