[Madrigal] - DNA Computing


Alan Turing is known to be the father of computer science. During WWII he was an integral player in cryptology and developing ways to send as well as intercept messages during the war. In the modern day, computers have evolved in smaller size and speed since Turing’s day and always seems to be changing with every passing moment. Currently, technology follows a trend known as Moore’s Law. It states that every 18 months the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles. This represents an exponential growth curve on the way computers evolve and is indicative of how technology changes. Those who know of this law know that eventually, Moore’s Law will come to a halt because the limitations of putting transistors on a circuit are limited by silicon, the material we use to develop these circuits. Eventually we will reach a limit and can’t put anymore transistors.


The future that researchers are looking into is DNA computing. DNA computing is the use of DNA instead of silicon chips to solve complex mathematical problems. Researchers believe that DNA computing will be the future of computers and will be the technology that helps get past Moore’s Law. There are many advantages to DNA computing over our current mode that make it an ideal next step to developing computers; size (much smaller), large supply (cheap), parallel processing (vs. linear in modern computers).  One researcher discovered that DNA can solve a complex math problem known as Hamiltonian Path Problem with what they called a bacterial computer.

Picture: Representation of Hamiltonian Path Problem using DNA computing

Our project, at its current infancy, deals with the development of these bacterial/cellular computers and the celebration of Alan Turing and cryptology. The development of these DNA computers will allow the storage of a large amount of information that hasn’t been achieved before by our current computers. We will be able to store all the information in the world with the use of only 1 pound of DNA.  The project we propose deals with the ability to store information as DNA in cells. It would be a new way of sending coded messages to people and we felt using a military motif like Turing was in to establish this idea. Common techniques such as PCR and DNA sequencing will be the way to extract the information.


Picture: The Bombe, the computer tool made of vacuum tubes that helped cryptologist decipher German intelligence.

When dealing with this new concept, it brought up controversial issues of how this new technology could be used. We are in the development of bio-computers, living organisms that are able to solve complex problems. In a sense, cells already do this by having gene regulation, but now we will use this concept to solve mathematical problems that can’t be solved by our current computing power. An astonishing idea, and to think that our possible future is not metallic robots, but beings formed by DNA computers. In addition, we bring to the table the manipulation of humans by being able to inject these onto people. It relates to the development of artificial intelligence with these DNA computers and having them integrated to a person. Many issues about this project emerge and we hope that we can bring these to light to discuss with the public.