Building a baseline for Biocomputing

Each day, humanity produces something on the order of 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. That number will likely seem ridiculously small a decade from now, thanks to an investment by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

University of Minnesota biologist Kate Adamala is among the researchers chosen for the NSF’s $12 million project to create “biocomputers.”

Adamala will work with colleagues at MIT and elsewhere to build bio-based circuits embedded in synthetic cells. The researchers believe that biocomputers can store 1,000 times more data than currently possible and retain the data for more than a century, all while consuming much less energy.

“It’s hard to program cells, which is why we don’t have biological computers yet,” Adamala says. “There are a lot of different genetic circuits out there, but none works perfectly. That’s not good enough to do reliable computing. It has to work 100 percent of the time.”

The potential applications for bio-based technology go way beyond data storage.

Adamala points to better prosthetics that can interface seamlessly with our bodies in ways that will make them more like an organ implant. And biocomputers with self-replicating synthetic cells could play a key role in future space exploration.

“We are at this stage right now where computers were in the 1940s,” she says. We are part of this bigger effort to make biological computing a reality.”

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