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Biological transistor built for living computers

DNA-based switches could be used in diagnosis and treatment of diseases

By
5:03pm, April 2, 2013

Save the clunky tricorders for Star Trek. One day, tiny biological computers with DNA-based circuitry could diagnose diseases.

Using snippets of DNA and DNA-clipping chemicals, researchers have created one key component of a computer’s brain: the transistor, a switch that helps electronics perform logic. The biological switch, dubbed a transcriptor, could be plugged together with other biological devices to boost the power of DNA-based computers, researchers report March 28 in Science.

With these switches, researchers might be able to program probiotic bacteria — the kind found in yogurt — to detect signs of colon cancer and then spit out warning signals, says study coauthor Jerome Bonnet of Stanford University. “The bacteria could actually travel through your gut and make a color in your poop,” he says.

Inside every smartphone, television and iPod, a computer chip holds circuits loaded with millions of transistors.

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