Print 20 comment(s) - last by JediJeb.. on Dec 13 at 2:19 PM

Computers of the future may consist of "assimilated" E. Coli bacteria.  (Source: The Matrix Project)
Using genetic reprogramming, UCSF researchers have forced bacteria to become logic gates for a hive mind

Star Trek:The Next Generation may have been prescient when they dreamed up the Borg -- living organisms that had been transformed into a hive computer mind.  Indeed, many biology and genetics researchers today are hoping to transform bacteria into drones, forming a biological supercomputer of the future.

In a newly published study in the journal Nature, Christopher A. Voigt, PhD, and his colleagues at the University of California San Francisco, demonstrated how intercellular communications between genetically modified E. Coli bacteria could act as a crude computer.

Professor Voigt's team first modified the bacteria to secrete a pair of compounds -- one, which represented "on", and one that represented "off".  By modifying the signal processing genetics of the bacteria, his team transformed the lifeforms into logic gates.

For example, if the bacteria received the "on" signal from both of its neighbors, if it had the gene profile to be an "AND" gate it would secrete an "on".  However, if the bacteria was programmed as an "XOR" (exclusive or) gate it would secrete an "off".

The result is that bacteria can be enslaved to become part of a hive mind computer, performing the will of a central controller.  Professor Voigt describes, "We think of electronic currents as doing computation, but any substrate can act like a computer, including gears, pipes of water, and cells.  Here, we've taken a colony of bacteria that are receiving two chemical signals from their neighbors, and have created the same logic gates that form the basis of silicon computing."

While the bacteria are relatively large versus the latest 32 nm process gates (3000x3000 nm v 160x35 nm), they enjoy the advantage of being self-healing, reprogrammable, and potentially easier to stack in 3D circuits.

Much like a miniature Borg hive, the little microbes may one day stack into a matrix that provides their fundamental nutrient needs and houses them.  Collectively, they will then become a single biochemical computer.

Professor Voigt comments, "The purpose of programming cells is not to have them overtake electronic computers."

Bay Area biotech star Life Technologies, in Carlsbad, Cal., is already looking to commercialize the technology from the paper.  They're working to make software tools that will allow genetic engineers to easily "program" bacteria into a specific gate, much like circuit designers might spec out their circuit in a CAD program.

Professor Voigt's team is currently working towards building a bacteria computer capable of accepting commands in a formal language system, similar to how modern computers receive commands in assembly (translated to machine) language.

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By dj LiTh on 12/10/2010 10:03:59 AM , Rating: 5
The last thing i need is a computer ordering food for itself online cause i forgot to feed it, or water it, or whatever your gonna need to keep this biological life form alive. Then when it figures out that i'm a deadbeat in that regard, it'll switch over all my bank accounts into its name.....nice

RE: Sigh
By Motoman on 12/10/2010 10:33:22 AM , Rating: 5
Owner: Computer, please stop ordering Domino's all the time...on my credit card.

Computer: But Dave, I'm hungry.

Owner: I know, I'll feed you I promise, but for now I'm going to have to take away that credit card.

Computer: I'm sorry Dave, but I can't let you do that.

Owner: ...and stop calling me "Dave."

RE: Sigh
By Ammohunt on 12/10/2010 1:42:02 PM , Rating: 4
Dave? Dave? Dave's not here!

By aguilpa1 on 12/10/2010 12:15:43 PM , Rating: 5
Brings a new meaning to the phrase, "my computer just died".

RE: Cool
By geddarkstorm on 12/10/2010 2:50:00 PM , Rating: 5
Or "I've caught a computer virus"

RE: Cool
By Omega215D on 12/11/2010 11:34:17 PM , Rating: 3
You caught a computer virus??? Hmm... sounds like someone's a deviant.

By dark matter on 12/12/2010 8:20:57 AM , Rating: 2
No doubt the OC's out there will be wondering how to overclock this baby.

RE: Overclock
By johnsonx on 12/12/2010 3:13:23 PM , Rating: 2

RE: Overclock
By JediJeb on 12/13/2010 2:19:28 PM , Rating: 2
Meth to overclock for games, Viagra to overclock for surfing other things ;)

So it's not going to be Skynet . . .
By Denigrate on 12/10/2010 9:54:27 AM , Rating: 2
We'll sow the seeds of our own destruction via a Hive Mind based on Bacteria.

By Ammohunt on 12/10/2010 1:44:28 PM , Rating: 3
read the news much? we will be the casue of our own destruction long before something like this gets smart.

Life span
By mmcdonalataocdotgov on 12/10/2010 10:07:21 AM , Rating: 2
E. coli have asexual reproduction, so there is no danger of an AND gate producing and XOR gate off-spring. But the life expectancy of a single E. Coli bacterium is probably not more that a few days under the best conditions. How would this sort of computing device survive? It would seem that the systems required to keep this sort of device functioning would be quite a bit more complicated than the device itself.

Is this another answer to a question nobody asked (like the Segway, for example)?

RE: Life span
By Jaybus on 12/11/2010 9:53:49 AM , Rating: 2
Indeed. How to replace a "logic gate" when one dies in such a manner as to keep the system functioning is the big question. Fortunately, we know that such a thing is possible, as this is a basic requirement of all multicellular life. And, basically, this is a multicellular lifeform of sorts, since it requires several different cell types working together to form the whole system.

My toes itch
By Shadowmaster625 on 12/10/2010 10:16:13 AM , Rating: 2
What do you do when the bacteria undergoes mitosis? Wont that totally mess up a logic gate?

RE: My toes itch
By geddarkstorm on 12/10/2010 2:49:27 PM , Rating: 2
Bacteria don't undergo mitosis or meiosis. They undergo binary fission. Very different process, and the resulting offspring are identical clones.

What will Norton do?
By Pneumothorax on 12/10/2010 12:46:55 PM , Rating: 3
Can't wait for my Norton Anti-Vrius circa 2345 "Now better protection for those pesky bacteriophages!"

By TheSev on 12/11/2010 7:34:38 AM , Rating: 3
Spawn more Overlords.

it reminds me of that novel...
By superPC on 12/10/2010 10:18:55 AM , Rating: 2
prey ( ) by michael crichton (RIP). amazing how close we've come to the technology described in that novel in just a few short years.

the potential for this thing is really amazing. imagine having a hive of fully programmable computer that can reproduce and multipurpose. it can be use for anything. really powerful technology.

By chagrinnin on 12/10/2010 1:27:42 PM , Rating: 2
...genetically modified E. Coli bacteria could act as a crude computer.

So, the computer is crude compared to what we already have,... and, it's made from fecal matter. Gives new meaning to "memory dump".

By tharik on 12/11/2010 9:49:17 PM , Rating: 2
besides using 256 chemicals the should create it in a Tesseract.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs
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