Researchers Propose Novel DNA-Based Processor Technology

Stock image of a clean room operative holding a chip
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DNA-based computing has been one of the few promises we have about the future of computing. As reported by The Register, a group of researchers from Incheon National University in South Korea has developed a rather basic processor made from DNA molecules, hoping to replace traditional electronics-based processors in the future.

The use of DNA molecules for computing has been mainly discussed as a storage medium. As biology and computer science came together, researchers have experimented with DNA molecules to create storage solutions that can hold terabytes of data with ease. However, this solution has a small problem. While the vast storage capacity of DNA-based solutions is a promising factor, it has a small limitation. Reading and writing to those data storage solutions takes up to a second for a single base to be written to DNA-based storage. 

This is primarily due to the fact that DNA storage operates on a different principle and needs a different way to work with data. So a natural solution to this would be a processor based on DNA molecules that will operate on the same data formatting principle as the storage solutions accept. This is exactly what we are presented with today.

According to The Register, researchers from Incheon National University in South Korea have developed a novel technology that uses DNA molecules to perform classical computation, by encapsulating everything into a simple form factor.

Called the Microfluidic Processing Unit (MPU), it incorporates DNA processing elements to perform a few basic computer logic gate operations. The first prototype of the MPU can do AND, OR, XOR, and NOT operations, which are fairly basic, however, represent a huge leap forward as this shows some of the first implementations of DNA molecules for computation.

Previously, to do any basic operations with DNA, researchers had to set up complex configurations by hand, which would be done in reaction tubes. These tubes are not as practical to operate and this approach was very slow. By contrast, the newly developed MPU does everything automatically, and it is made by a 3D printer. This brings the complexity down and allows for a first step towards creating a usable processor running on DNA molecules.

The chip was controlled by a PC and can be even operated by a smartphone. This means that it still needs external resources to control it, however, researchers are now stating that: "Future research will focus on a total DNA computing solution with DNA algorithms and DNA storage systems", according to Dr. Song, from Incheon National University. In addition, the research notes that with such convincing proof of concept, the future of DNA processors could be here very soon.