Canadian Consulting Engineer

Will computers become flesh?

March 15, 2016

Researchers at McGill University have created a model of a biological computer that functions using the proteins present in all living cells.

The model “bio supercomputer” is much smaller than current supercomputers — about the size of a book. Because it generates hardly any heat, it also uses much less energy.

The team led by Professor Dan Nicolau, Sr., chair of the Department of Bio-engineering at McGill, says the model of a biological computer is able to process information very quickly and accurately using parallel networks similar to supercomputers.

In an article in McGill Newsroom, Nicolau explained how he came up with the idea with his son, Dan Nicolau, Jr., more than a decade ago and since then has worked on it with colleagues in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands.

He told reporter Katherine Gombay, “This started as a back of an envelope idea, after too much rum, I think, with drawings of what looked like small worms exploring mazes.”

The researchers recognize that the model is just a first step. The bio-computer employs a 1.5 cm square chip with channels etched in it. Instead of electrons, short strings of proteins (the researchers call them biological agents) travel around the circuit. They are powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the substance that energizes the cells in our bodies.

An article about the research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in February.

To read the McGill Newsroom article, click here.



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