Engineer Chris Dwyer of Duke University wants to build computer chips out of DNA bonds affected with a molecule called chromophores, which are affected by light and can produce binary sequences, as the paper he submitted outlines in the science journal Small. Popular Science and Phys Org both have stories on Dwyer’s ideas. The Assistant Professor teaches Nanotechnology at the school and has written the book, Introduction to DNA Self-Assembled Computer Design, besides being an editor for the Journal of Emerging Technologies in Computing Systems, where he writes that his interests include: “…DNA self-assembly and its application to computational and sensor systems, self-assembled computer architecture, circuit design and fabrication, and modeling and simulation of nanoscale phenomena.”
Theoretically, the DNA chip would be a very cheap way to make chips as the DNA can be sequenced to grow themselves endlessly; chips of this type would be extremely efficient, running at the speed of neurons, rather than the choppy (by comparison) digital signals silicon chips operate under today. We’re not exactly at the end of the silicon age, but it does have a foreseeable ceiling, one that would be shattered by the development of this technology.
So far, according to the Phys Org article, Dwyer and company have been able to synthesize a 16-piece chip, which arranged itself from billions of pieces of unattached DNA – the process relied on DNA’s natural attraction to its corresponding piece. Dr. Dwyer explained the reaction like this: “It’s like taking pieces of a puzzle, throwing them in a box and as you shake the box, the pieces gradually find their neighbors to form the puzzle.” Yes, it’s really that easy: in the future we will potentially have Shake and Bake computers.
As these chips are also essentially sensors, they could also be used to test single drops of blood for a gamete of possible tests, including, eventually, DNA sequencing. That’s right – soon, confirming paternity will be as easier than making a damn sandwich. The future of computing sounds positively delicious.