Designing and programming living computers
Perceptgene theory and implementation. Credit: Nature Communications (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-022-33288-8

The Technion and MIT scientists collaborated to create cells that could be used to compute complex functions.

Professor Ron Weiss from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Professor Ramez Daniel from the Israel Institute of Technology collaborated to create genetic devices that could perform computations. The results were published in a journal.

The genetic material was inserted into the cell in the form of a small molecule called a plasmid. There are plismids in nature and they serve many functions. A simple artificial neural network was designed by the research group to function as a simple computer. Several genes on the plasmid were used to regulate each other's activity.

Is a cell a circuit? There is a question about how a computer could be biological.

A computer is made up of 0s and 1s. The basic operations are summing them, picking the maximal or minimal value between them, and so on.

The transistors are used in the 0/1 switches. Our cells are computers as well. A molecule can act as a switch. The genes form, modify, or remove molecule. Synthetic biology wants to harness the processes to synthesise the switches and program the genes that would make a bacterium perform complex tasks.

Cells are able to sense chemicals. The computerization of the processes within the cell could have major implications for biomanufacturing.

The PhD students were under the guidance of Prof. Ramez Daniel from the Faculty of Biomedical Engineering at the Technion.

Synthetic computation circuits were created by combining existing genetic parts and engineered genes in novel ways. Artificial intelligence was used to create the cells that can be trained.

The cells were able to switch between performing the OR and the AND functions when they were reprogrammed. Different operations can be performed by cells that can change their programming. Our cells do this on a regular basis.

Being able to control the process makes engineered cells suitable for more advanced tasks. The scientists were able to produce the required genetic modifications at a lower cost with the help of Artificial Intelligence.

The group made use of another natural property of living cells: they are able to respond to the environment. The group harnessed this natural ability to make an analog-to-digital converter, a cell capable of reporting whether the concentration of a particular molecule is low, medium, or high. It is possible to use a sensor to deliver the correct dose of drugs.

There is more information about synthetic neuromorphic computing in living cells.

Journal information: Nature Communications