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Funding to build molecular biocomputers

Illustration of biocomputing units propelled by molecular motors through a junction within a network of channels

A five-year, €6.1million EU Horizon 2020 project aims to build a new type of powerful computer based on biomolecules.

The research project aims to develop a biocomputer that will use a fraction of the energy of existing computers, and that can tackle problems where many solutions need to be explored simultaneously. The computer could potentially be used to design error-free software, currently limited by processing speed, energy consumption and the cooling of microelectronic processors.

"We are using molecular motors of the cell that have been optimised by a billion years of evolution to be highly energy efficient nanomachines,” says TU Dresden Professor Stefan Diez.

By using biomolecular motors as computing units, machines could solve problems by moving through a nanofabricated network of channels designed to represent a mathematical algorithm. The scientists in the project have termed this ‘network-based biocomputation’.

Whenever the biomolecules reach a junction in the network, they either add a number to the sum they are calculating or leave it out. That way, each biomolecule acts as a tiny computer with a processor and memory. While an individual biomolecule is much slower than a current computer, they are self-assembling, so therefore can be used in large numbers.

The research consortium will focus on developing the technology required to scale up network-based biocomputers to a point at which they can compete with other alternative computing approaches such as DNA computing and quantum computing.

The role of the Dresden group will be to modify the properties of motor proteins, such as kinesin, to optimise them for biocomputation, as well as to integrate them into nanofabricated devices.

Peggy Lee

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