There are many, many conceptual contraptions that could change the way human beings live their lives, and the biological computer is hovering right around the top, just below a realistic oral sex replicator. But all bodily things aside, a team of bioengineers from Stanford University have come farther than anyone else in figuring out a way to mesh living matter and electronics together — the transcriptor.
Modeled after the transistor, which amplifies and switches electrical signals and power, transcriptors will do the same thing with genetic materials. That’s right, the device’s electrical flow is controlled by RNA polymerase traveling along a strand of DNA, in which the RNA’s movement is controlled by special enzyme combinations, integrases in this case. The scientists had to choose such enzymes that weren’t specific to any one form of life and were found everywhere in nature. Just in case we need to make that Venus Fly Trap computer I scribbled onto thousands of pages of construction paper in my youth.
Using a combination of different transcriptors, the Stanford team created a full array of logic gates that they call Boolean Integrase Logic gates, or BIL gates, if you’re into billion-dollar puns. With this variety of gates, there is almost no limit to the computations that a biological computer could perform inside a living cell.
So what about the storage? Well, DNA has already been used as a ridiculously vast memory bank, where 700 terabytes of info were stored into a single gram of DNA. Students of the future will be chock-full of tiny cheat sheets. And because Stanford has made their BIL gate design open to the public, it’s only a matter of time before all of the world’s scientists have come together to argue about whose living computer is better than the other ones. And the answer, of course, will be 42.