Scientists have discovered that ATP, a chemical which provides energy to cells inside the human body, could also power an energy efficient biological supercomputer.
Supercomputers work 100 million times faster than a normal PC, but powering and cooling them costs millions of dollars. That may soon change thanks to a piece of groundbreaking research, writes Stacy Liberatore for the Daily Mail.
Groundbreaking research creates biological chip using ATP
Scientists at McGill University hope that their discovery “will change the way supercomputers are built.” They replaced electrons with a chemical found in the human body when building chips, in order to reduce costs and cool the system.
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The researchers used Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to power the computer, allowing for a smaller, less power hungry version. It uses proteins found in all living cells in order to work.
“We’ve managed to create a very complex network in a very small area,’ said Dan Nicolau, Sr. “This started as a back of an envelope idea, after too much rum I think, with drawings of what looked like small worms exploring mazes.”
Hybrid technology could be precursor to full scale biological supercomputer
The circuit on the chip does not feature electrons zipping around, but rather “shoe strings” of proteins that are powered by ATP. As a result the system does not overheat and uses minimal energy.
‘We implemented the proposed computational approach with biological agents that satisfy the following requirements: The agents (proteins) are available in large numbers at negligible cost; are self-propelled and thus do not require a global, external driving force; operate independently of each other to ensure parallel exploration; have small dimensions to enable use in high-density networks with high computing power per unit area; move rapidly to maximize computational speed; and move in a predominantly forward direction (to ensure low error rates),’ according to the study.
It is hoped that further research will yield a full scale biological supercomputer, but a logical next step would be to create a hybrid device by combining the system with a conventional computer. A team of scientists announced that they had made a hybrid chip last December.
Could future chips be able to taste and smell?
The study was led by Ken Shepard, Lau Family Professor of Electrical Engineering and professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University. The team combined a solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) integrated circuit with an artificial lipid bilayer membrane containing ATP-powered ion pumps in order to make a ‘biochip’.
‘In combining a biological electronic device with CMOS (solid-state complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor), we will be able to create new systems not possible with either technology alone,’ said Shepard.
It is hoped that by combining the technologies scientists will one day be able to give chips natural abilities such as tasting and smelling. If they are able to do so then a whole raft of new possibilities will open up.
‘You need a bomb-sniffing dog now, but if you can take just the part of the dog that is useful — the molecules that are doing the sensing — we wouldn’t need the whole animal,’ says Shepard.
Research in the field could see the advent of systems which combine silicon and biology more effectively than we have ever seen. One day we could do away with bomb-sniffing dogs in favor of bomb-sniffing robots, among myriad other functions.