Newswise — Current computers consist of metal, plastic, wires and transistors. The manner in which they process information is called linear because they conduct one computation at a time. In the latest generation of computers, biological molecules replace all the components. One advantage of these biomolecular computers over linear computers is their ability to simultaneously carry out an enormous number of complex operations.
A new version of a biomolecular computer developed at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology " composed entirely of DNA molecules and enzymes " outdoes even the fastest of its kind. It can perform as many as a billion different programs simultaneously. Previous biomolecular computers, such as the one built by a joint team from the Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science three years ago, were limited to just 765 simultaneous programs.
This new computer is also autonomous; it processes calculations from beginning to end without any human assistance. Other biomolecular computers require humans to analyze and decipher results and perform intermediate tasks at different points in the process before the computer can complete the operation.
"A final innovation is the incorporation of a gold-coated chip, which allows simple, real-time readout of the results," said lead researcher Professor Ehud Keinan of the Technion Faculty of Chemistry. He explained that results produced by current biomolecular computers can only be analyzed by using elaborate techniques that include separating and sorting molecules according to size and the use of radioactive materials.
The development of the Technion's biomolecular computer is reported in the March 2005 Journal of the American Chemical Society.
One of the most promising applications for such autonomous molecular computers would be the encryption of images. Images could be encrypted on a chip containing the equivalent of 41million pixels so that deciphering them would be impossible to those without access to a secret key comprised of several short DNA molecules and several enzymes. Only the image's creator, of course, would know this. Government agencies, military, and the financial sector could utilize such encryption techniques. Another benefit of such high pixelization: unmatched image quality and detail. By comparison, the highest quality image from a professional grade, 6-megapixel digital camera is comprised of "just" 6 million pixels.
Keinan and his team will now focus their efforts on creating more sophisticated biomolecular computers, including ones whose final outputs are actual biological functions. This would make possible the aforementioned encryption methods, as well as disease detection and treatment.
The research was carried out with Technion graduate students Michal Soreni, Sivan Yogev, Elizaveta Kossoy, and Prof. Yuval Shoham of the Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Engineering.
The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the country's only winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 17 offices around the country.