For the first time ever, University of Manchester scientists led by Professor Ross D. King have demonstrated the feasibility of building a new kind of computer that can potentially put quantum computers in the backseat (at least for a while). It’s a DNA-based computer that will fall under the category of a nondeterministic universal Turing machine (NUTM) and it can theoretically do computations faster than any other form of computer, even quantums.
A quantum computer is supposed to be able to perform several computations at the same time. This is because instead of using regular bits that can only represent 0 or 1, a quantum computer makes use of qubits (short for quantum bits) that can represent 0, 1, or 0 and 1 at the same time (referred to as superpositioning), which makes it compute faster. The road to building a quantum computer has been rough, though, and up to now, no one has managed to build one because of the complexities involved with qubits, superpositioning and quantum-entanglement.
Here is where the proposed DNA computer comes in. Instead of the seemingly impossible conditions needed to make a quantum computer, or the fixed number of silicon chips that make up traditional electronic computers, the proposed NUTM will have a processor that’s made up of DNA or biological molecules capable of replicating endlessly. This means that if it gets stymied by a problem, all it has to do is replicate again and again until there are billions of cells all working on the solution.
The computer’s ability to grow as it computes enables it to come up with answers faster than any other form of computer. This capability also makes it possible to work out seemingly unsolvable problems.
To paint a picture of how the proposed NUTM works, the team chose to describe it using a maze. This is the scenario: the computer is searching a maze, and it comes to a point where a choice between going to the left or to the right is presented.
With an electronic computer, it will need to choose which path to follow first. On the other hand, with a DNA-based computer, choosing will not be necessary because the computer can simply replicate itself so that it can follow both paths simultaneously. And it will repeat this process until the end is reached, so to speak. This translates, of course, to finding the answer much quicker.
As reported by Phys.Org, Professor King was quoted as saying: “As DNA molecules are very small a desktop computer could potentially utilize 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.”
Saying we truly live during the most exciting time ever in human history would be an understatement. It should be noted, though, that currently coding just 1 megabyte of information into DNA costs $12,500. But just as advances in the field of genomics have managed to drive the cost of sequencing from $2.7 billion to a low of $280, experts hope to see a similar downtrend in encoding computing information in DNA.
The research was recently published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.