Stanford researchers develop disease-detecting biological 'computer'

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A new biological computer developed by Stanford University researchers could potentially detect disease and kill off rogue cells, according to a new study published in Science magazine.

The advancements, according to an article in the San Jose Mercury News, are described as "microscopic natural computers inside [human's] cells that could guard against disease and warn of toxic threats."

The achievement is a portent to computers inside the human body that could screen for cancer or toxic chemicals. Lead researcher Drew Endy told the Mercury News, "We're going to be able to put computers inside any living cell you want," which he said could answer any biological question within a cell, and count cells, too.

Endy's work "clearly demonstrates the power of synthetic biology and could revolutionize how we compute in the future,' UC Berkeley biochemical engineer Jay Keasling told the Mercury News. UC Berkeley's Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center has helped to support the research.

"We're not going to replace the silicon computers. We're not going to replace your phone or your laptop. But we're going to get computing working in places where silicon would never work," Endy told the Mercury News. "Any place you want a little bit of logic, a little bit of computation, a little bit of memory--we're going to be able to do that."

Similar to electronics--where a transistor controls the flow of electrons along a circuit--biology serves as the basis here for a "transcriptor" that controls the flow of protein traveling along a strand of DNA.

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst discovered a type of gene sequencing they said has allowed then to identify new information about genes related to conditions such as heart disease. Statistical tools are applied to large public databases to delve out cluster of gene variations for people with certain conditions.

Last summer, a 'supercomputer' that has the power to determine which biological systems in the heart are affected by genetic mutations that cause heart defects was revealed at the University of Copenhagen.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract in Science
- read the article in the San Jose Mercury News

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