Synthetic cells use DNA computers to communicate and compute data.

DNA computing is a form of synthetic biology using DNA and biotechnical hardware on the nano-scale to store data and compute information. As the makeup of all organisms on earth is based on a DNA coding system encoding masses of information, DNA is an excellent candidate for data processing on the nano-scale.  It is hoped these bio nano-processors will someday lead to ‘intelligent drugs’ with DNA computers able to interact with the host’s system for medical purposes.  Now, a study from researchers led by Microsoft Research develops communities of artificial cells capable of chemically communicating and performing molecular computations using entrapped DNA logic gates.  The team states their work provides a step towards chemical cognition in synthetic protocells and could be useful in biosensing and therapeutics.  The study is published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Previous studies show researchers have managed to encode long texts into DNA, with others using the molecule to develop simple logic gates and circuits.  These molecular computers made from DNA have the ability to use programmable interactions between DNA strands to transform DNA inputs into coded outputs.  However, DNA computers are slow because they operate in a chemical soup where they rely on random molecular diffusion to execute a computational step.  The current study assembles these processes inside artificial protocells capable of sending highly targetted DNA input and output signals to each other at faster speeds.

The current study develops a new technique, BIO-PC (Biomolecular Implementation Of Protocell communication), based on communities of semi-permeable capsules containing a diversity of DNA logic gates used for molecular sensing and computation.  Results show compartmentalization of the DNA computers increases the speed of the computational circuits, reduces cross-talk between the DNA strands, and enables molecular circuits to function in serum.  Data findings show the protocell capsules help to increase the speed of the molecular computations and protects the entrapped DNA strands from degradation by enzymes present in the blood.

The lab states the ability to chemically communicate between smart artificial cells using DNA logic codes opens up new opportunities in unconventional computing and life-like microscale systems.  They go on to add their work is also an important step towards the development of smart, ‘intelligent’ drugs possibly allowing better control of medication with fewer side-effects at a lower cost due to the availability of synthesized DNA.

The team surmises they use synthetic biology to develop artificial protocells encapsulating DNA computers possessing the capability to sense, process and respond to DNA-based messages.  For the future, the researchers state this new approach lays the groundwork for using protocell communication platforms to bring embedded molecular control circuits closer to practical applications in medicine.

Source: University of Bristol

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