MIT Creates Calculators using Two Single Cells

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MIT Creates Calculators using Two Single Cells

MIT Creates Calculators using Single Cells

Anyone who thought that bacterium were only useful in the world of medical health might be surprised to learn that researchers at MIT actually have theirs doing math. The study was published online on May 15th of 2013 and has quickly attracted attention as one of the most fascinating tech ideas of 2013. The bio calculators are actually made using synthetic and genetically altered bacterium which allows their function to be manipulated for practical use.  These living cells can now not only do basic arithmetic but also perform complex mathematical equations to compute logarithms and even square roots, which is more than most people can do.

Synthetic analog computation

Background History

Computers have not always been hi-tech digital masterpieces capable of calculating anything to the power of zero. The original computers were in fact analog computers which used simple processes to make very advanced calculations. Analog computers can typically solve a great deal of mathematical problems using a simple logarithmic scale, which is still used in many standard calculators. The researchers at MIT based the analog computation in their living cells on this type of simple calculation. Analog computers are a great deal more efficient at mathematical calculations than digital ones as they can calculate using any series of numbers while digital computers are linked to the power of zero. The bio calculator from MIT for example can determine square roots using only two parts while a digital computer would require at least one hundred parts to reach the same deductions.

The Technology Behind It

To create a biological calculator using cells, MIT researchers used two cells including Arabinose a type of sugar, and AFH which is a signaling molecule, to create a circuit. Both cells work to activate the gene for green fluorescent protein . The input from the circuit is calculated by tracking the GFP or green fluorescent protein present in both cells. Currently the cells use these inputs and enzymes to add, divide, and do complex math up to 10,000. However, currently each set of cells does have limited use but researchers have multiple modified versions that create different types of mathematical equations. For example, for basic addition, the cells simply must create more GFP, for division, they must take it away.

This is very similar to creating mathematical systems with logarithms such as folded paper or an abacus because it is very easy to track as well as add and detract from numbers.

What it Means for the Future  

Technology is rapidly evolving and right now this tiny calculator constructed out of two single cell living organisms is actually better at calculations than most biological computers in the world today. The researchers from MIT state that they intend to keep researching in the hopes of re-creating their success with larger cells and potentially even mammalian cells.

So how could biological cells that can do math really benefit anyone? The world is on a fast track towards bio-technology because biological computers can be so small that you cannot see them with the unaided eye. As the demand for smaller and smaller tech keeps rising so will the demand and research for bio computers. With further advances in this very new technology, we could have highly efficient computers based on tiny cells which means smaller more efficient computing.

What do you think? Like the idea of two cells being used to make calculations?

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