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Biocomputers


Biocomputers

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Biocomputers utilize systems of biologically derived molecules, such as DNA and proteins, to perform computational calculations involving storing, retrieving, and processing data.

The development of biocomputers has been made possible by the expanding new science of nanobiotechnology. The term nanobiotechnology can be defined in multiple ways; in a more general sense, nanobiotechnology can be defined as any type of technology that utilizes both nano-scale materials, i.e. materials having characteristic dimensions of 1-100 nanometers, as well as biologically based materials (34).4 A more restrictive definition views nanobiotechnology more specifically as the design and engineering of proteins that can then be assembled into larger, functional structures (116-117) (9).³,1 The implementation of nanobiotechnology, as defined in this narrower sense, provides scientists with the ability to engineer biomolecular systems specifically so that they interact in a fashion that can ultimately result in the computational functionality of a computer.

The promising field of biocomputer research utilizes the science behind nano-sized biomaterials to create various forms of computational devices, which may have many potential applications in the future. One day, biocomputers utilizing nanobiotechnology may become the cheapest, most energy-efficient, most powerful, and most economical of any commercially available computer. Already, scientists are making significant headway in the advancement of this science.


[edit] Scientific Background

Biocomputers utilize biologically derived materials to perform computational functions. A biocomputer consists of a pathway or series of metabolic pathways involving biological materials that are engineered to behave in a certain manner based upon the conditions (input) of the system. The resulting pathway of reactions that takes place constitutes an output, which is based on the engineering design of the biocomputer and can be interpreted as a form of computational analysis. Three distinguishable types of biocomputers include biochemical computers, biomechanical computers, and bioelectronic computers (349-351).²

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[edit] Biochemical Computers

Biochemical computers use the immense variety of feedback loops that are characteristic of biological chemical reactions in order to achieve computational functionality. Feedback loops in biological systems take many forms, and many different factors can provide both positive and negative feedback to a particular biochemical process, causing either an increase in chemical output or a decrease in chemical output, respectively. Such factors may include the quantity of catalytic enzymes present, the amount of reactants present, the amount of products present, and the presence of molecules that bind to and thus alter the chemical reactivity of any of the aforementioned factors. Given the nature of these biochemical systems to be regulated through many different mechanisms, one can engineer a chemical pathway comprising a set of molecular components that react to produce one particular product under one set of specific chemical conditions and another particular product under another set of conditions. The presence of the particular product that results from the pathway can serve as a signal, which can be interpreted, along with other chemical signals, as a computational output based upon the starting chemical conditions of the system, i.e. the input.

[edit] Biomechanical Computers

Biomechanical computers are similar to biochemical computers in that they both perform a specific output that can be interpreted as a functional computation based upon specific initial conditions which serve as input. They differ, however, in what exactly serves as the output signal. In biochemical computers, the presence or concentration of certain chemicals serves as the output signal. In biomechanical computers, however, the mechanical shape of a specific molecule or set of molecules under a set of initial conditions serves as the output. Biomechanical computers rely on the nature of specific molecules to adopt certain physical configurations under certain chemical conditions. The mechanical, three-dimensional structure of the product of the biomechanical computer is detected and interpreted appropriately as a calculated output.

[edit] Bioelectronic Computers

Biocomputers can also be constructed to perform electronic computing. Again, like both biomechanical and biochemical computers, computations are performed by interpreting a specific output that is based upon an initial set of conditions that serve as input. In bioelectronic computers, the measured output is the nature of the electrical conductivity that is observed in the bioelectronic computer, which comprises specifically designed biomolecules that conduct electricity in highly specific manners based upon the initial conditions that serve as the input of the bioelectronic system.

[edit] Engineering Biocomputers

The behavior of biologically derived computational systems such as these relies on the particular molecules that make up the system, which are primarily proteins but may also include DNA molecules. Nanobiotechnology provides the means to synthesize the multiple chemical components necess

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