Chinese scientists have developed a new type of programmable, general-purpose computing unit based on DNA molecules, marking a fundamental step towards building a DNA computer.

The widely known integrated circuits used in recent decades are mostly semiconductor-based electronic and photonic circuits. Liquid phase circuits using genetic codes are a new computing strategy that has enormous potential for massive parallelism in coding and executing algorithms.

However, biological molecules tend to diffuse and mix in liquids, making it challenging to apply this strategy to general-purpose computing. The study published this week in the journal Nature demonstrated a system that, by integrating multilayer DNA-based programmable gate arrays (DPGAs), can solve quadratic equations.

Researchers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University assembled the device with three layers of cascaded DPGAs comprising 30 logic gates with about 500 strands of DNA. It works to control the random collision of molecules.

They found that using single-stranded polymers, consisting of a small number of nucleotides, as a uniform transmission signal can reliably integrate large-scale integrated circuits with minimal leakage and high fidelity for general-purpose computing.

Equipped with an analog-to-digital converter, the device can be used to classify disease-related microRNAs, according to the study.


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