Boffins build artificial DNA

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Japanese scientists claim to have created the world's first artificial DNA, a development that brings DNA computing much closer..

In a paper in the 23 July issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society Masahiko Inouye and colleagues at the University of Toyama claim to have successfully built a stable artificial DNA strand.

"The unique chemistry of these structures and their high stability offer unprecedented possibilities for developing new biotech materials and applications," the researchers said.

If correct the technology could be used in immensely powerful DNA computers. Biological computing has the potential to make silicon-based systems obsolete and allow the development of tiny supercomputers many times more powerful than today’s systems.

DNA computers are constructed by using DNA as software and enzymes as hardware. By mixing the two and monitoring the resulting reactions, simple computer calculations can be performed.

The storage capacity of DNA is also far superior to that of silicon systems. Half a kilo of DNA would have a greater storage capability than all the hard drives in existence today. It is also much more power efficient.

In 2004 Israeli scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science announced in a paper in Nature that they had successfully built a prototype DNA computer with input/output capabilities.

It was officially recognised by Guinness World Records as "the smallest biological computing device".

Then in 2006 scientists at Columbia University and the University of New Mexico built MAYA-II, a DNA computer that uses 128 organic logic gates and 32 input DNA molecules. It is capable of playing tic-tac-toe, albeit very slowly.

The new discovery in Japan of a system to build custom DNA would be vital as it would allow scientists to build custom DNA types optimised for computing.

This would bring forward the deployment of DNA computers to years in the future, as opposed to decades.
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