The Biological Computer

From Enlightenment to Abomination?

RWA CHEM 51 Research project 1 10/31/07 Professor: Dr. Paul Shin

The First Biological Computer?

English Romantic novelist, biographer and editor, best known as the writer of FRANKENSTEIN, OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS (1818). Mary Shelley was 21 when the book was published; she started to write it when she was 18. The story deals with an ambitious young scientist. He creates life but then rejects his creation, a monster.

Off Topic?
► While

“FRANKENSTEIN, OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS (1818),” is science fiction. It seems to be founded on some science. The human body does require some amount of electricity and along with the “body,” a brain, or central processor, to mange the many processes it’s been programmed to run. So, it is conceivable that in theory albeit very simplistic terms, the human body can be automated with sufficient power and a brain to carry out instructions.

The Computer Today

Technically, a computer is a programmable machine. This means it can execute a programmed list of instructions and respond to new instructions that it is given. Today, however, the term is most often used to refer to the desktop and laptop computers that most people use. When referring to a desktop model, the term "computer" technically only refers to the computer itself -- not the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. Still, it is acceptable to refer to everything together as the computer. If you want to be really technical, the box that holds the computer is called the "system unit."

Biological Computers Today

A computer made of neurons taken from leeches has been created by US scientists. At the moment, the device can perform simple sums - the team calls the novel calculator the "leech-ulator". ► But their aim is to devise a new generation of fast and flexible computers that can work out for themselves how to solve a problem, rather than having to be told exactly what to do. ► Professor Bill Ditto, at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is leading the project and says he is amazed that today's computers are still so dumb. ► "Ordinary computers need absolutely correct information every time to come to the right answer," he says. "We hope a biological computer will come to the correct answer based on partial information, by filling in the gaps itself."

Medical Applications
► ►

Scientists developed tiny implantable biocomputers Molecular devices’ remarkably precise scans of cellular activity could revolutionize medicine Researchers at Harvard and Princeton universities have taken a crucial step toward building biological computers, tiny implantable devices that can monitor the activities and characteristics of human cells. The information provided by these “molecular doctors,” constructed entirely of DNA, RNA, and proteins, could eventually revolutionize medicine by directing therapies only to diseased cells or tissues.

Biological computer diagnoses cancer and produces drug – in a test tube
► ►

Weizmann Institute scientist’s vision: Microscopic computers will function inside living tissues, performing diagnosis and administering treatment. The world's smallest computer (around a trillion in a drop of water) might one day go on record again as the tiniest medical kit. Made entirely of biological molecules, this computer was successfully programmed to identify (in a test tube) changes in the balance of molecules in the body that indicate the presence of certain cancers, to diagnose the type of cancer, and to react by producing a drug molecule to fight the cancer cells. As in previous biological computers produced in Shapiro's lab, input, output and "software" are all composed of DNA, the material of genes, while DNA-manipulating enzymes are used as "hardware." The newest version's input apparatus is designed to assess concentrations of specific RNA molecules, which may be overproduced or under produced, depending on the type of cancer. Using pre-programmed medical knowledge, the computer then makes its diagnosis based on the detected RNA levels. In response to a cancer diagnosis, the output unit of the computer can initiate the controlled release of a single-stranded DNA molecule that is known to interfere with the cancer cell's activities, causing it to self-destruct. In one series of test-tube experiments, the team programmed the computer to identify RNA molecules that indicate the presence of prostate cancer and, following a correct diagnosis, to release the short DNA strands designed to kill cancer cells. Similarly, they were able to identify, in the test tube, the signs of one form of lung cancer. One day in the future, they hope to create a "doctor in a cell", which will be able to operate inside a living body, spot disease and apply the necessary treatment before external symptoms even appear.

Risk-Benefit Analysis: Animated Corpse
► The

idea of animating a corpse as in Mary’s Shelly’s tale. Assuming it can even be done. Benefits: Understanding the mechanics of the human physiology in a new way. ► Risks: The general consensus might consider the idea or practice inhuman. Who would volunteer his/her body? How long would these subjects be kept “alive.” The practice would enrage certain pro-life or prodead groups. ► DQ would be LOW

Risk-Benefit Analysis: Bilogical Computer for Medical or Scientific Advancement
► Tiny

“doctors” monitoring diseases within patients and administering the correct medicines in correct doses. ► Tiny computers: cheap to “manufacture.” Able to run BILLIONS upon BILLIONS of calculations. ► Risks: Technology is it’s infancy. Will take some time to mature. Potential to save lives and offer a better quality of life is high. ► DQ would be HIGH.


Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) - original surname Godwin Definition of Computer Sci/Tech Biological computer born In a first, scientists develop tiny implantable biocomputers Biological computer diagnoses cancer and produces drug – in a test tube

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