Manchester research into DNA-based computer that can grow as it computes

Stephen Chapman's picture
by Stephen Chapman

A team of researchers from the University of Manchester has shown that it would be possible to build a super-fast computer that “grows as it computes.”

“Imagine a computer is searching a maze and comes to a choice point, one path leading left, the other right,” explained Professor King, from Manchester’s School of Computer Science.

“Electronic computers need to choose which path to follow first. But our new computer doesn’t need to choose, for it can replicate itself and follow both paths at the same time, thus finding the answer faster.

“This ‘magical’ property is possible because the computer’s processors are made of DNA rather than silicon chips. All electronic computers have a fixed number of chips."

We’ll leave that to sink in for a while. But in theory this would make the computer faster than any other form of computer and enable people to solve problems previously considered impossible.

For the science lovers, Professor King and his team have demonstrated for the very first time the “feasibility of engineering a nondeterministic universal Turing machine (NUTM).”

Turing’s greatest achievement was inventing the concept of a universal Turing machine (UTM), that’s to say a computer that can be programmed to compute anything any other computer can compute. Electronic computers are a form of UTM, but no quantum UTM has yet been built.

“Quantum computers are an exciting other form of computer, and they can also follow both paths in a maze, but only if the maze has certain symmetries, which greatly limits their use,” continued Professor King.

“As DNA molecules are very small, a desktop computer could potentially utilise more processors than all the electronic computers in the world combined - and therefore outperform the world’s current fastest supercomputer, while consuming a tiny fraction of its energy.”