Future digital devices could be built from bacteria and DNA

Researchers at Imperial College London have demonstrated that it is possible to build some basic components used in digital devices out of gut bacteria and DNA.

The team reprogrammed E.Coli bacteria with modified DNA to perform the same switching on and off process as logic gates found in computers and microprocessors.

Prof Martin Buck said: ‘We’ve been trying to establish a switching system using sensitive and robust biological components, which effectively allows us to generate the AND and NOT Gate.

‘We took the genetic components from one bacterium and controlled the expression of them very tightly, so that the overall system was dependent on both these genetic systems firing at the right time.’

Biological logic gates have been demonstrated before but the modularity of Imperial’s concept means that they can be fitted together to make more advanced versions, which could pave the way for more complex biological processors in future.

Although still a long way off, the team believes that its biological logic gates could one day form the building blocks in microscopic biological computers.

The team says that devices may include sensors that swim inside arteries, detecting the build-up of harmful plague and rapidly delivering medications to the affected zone.

Prof Buck added that one of the main issues at present is that the description of the parts isn’t sufficiently elaborated, which means they can’t be mixed together straight off the shelf.

‘The components need to be characterised according to the context they are to be used in,’ said Buck.