Computing Community Consortium Blog

The goal of the Computing Community Consortium (CCC) is to catalyze the computing research community to debate longer range, more audacious research challenges; to build consensus around research visions; to evolve the most promising visions toward clearly defined initiatives; and to work with the funding organizations to move challenges and visions toward funding initiatives. The purpose of this blog is to provide a more immediate, online mechanism for dissemination of visioning concepts and community discussion/debate about them.

Taking a Square Root With DNA

June 5th, 2011 / in Research News / by Erwin Gianchandani

Taking a Square Root With DNA [image courtesy Caltech]Some research news last Friday that’s been the subject of much chatter in the popular press:

Caltech researchers Lulu Qian and Eric Winfree — who holds a joint appointment in computer science and bioengineering — were able to get 74 molecules of DNA to take the square root of a number and round the result to the nearest integer.

It isn’t a big number (the largest is 15). It isn’t particularly fast (the calculation takes about 10 hours). And it isn’t the first biochemical circuit ever to be assembled (Winfree and his colleagues first built something like this back in 2006).

But it’s noteworthy because it is the first circuit capable of doing something as elaborate as taking a square root — and moreover because it involves “components that are simple, standardized, reliable, and scalable, meaning that even bigger and more complex circuits can be made and still work reliably.”

“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 said. Qian added, “The dream is that synthetic biochemical circuits will one day achieve complexities comparable to life itself.”

Check out the original Science paper or a related public-access paper also prepared by Qian and Winfree.

And be sure to watch this video — developed by the two researchers — illustrating the technique:

(Contributed by Erwin Gianchandani, CCC Director)

Taking a Square Root With DNA

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