Computers have without a doubt revolutionized modern society. They’re everywhere: our offices and homes, our pockets — even in our kitchen appliances. As for the next place computer technology could be headed, you already have the basic component: your DNA. It sounds strange, but researchers at the University of Manchester are working on turning strands of DNA into the next basis for computing.
Scientists have actually created a DNA-based computing device that “grows as it computes.” While our current computers have a finite capacity for computations, DNA computers could be designed to self-replicate, making them able to create more storage as-needed. Computers today have gradually worked up to being able to hold a few terabytes — but DNA computing can work at 100 billion terabytes. To top it off, all of that storage is guaranteed with just one gram of DNA. While that’s impressive enough on its own, storage isn’t the only benefit a DNA computer can provide.
With a self-replicating computer, there’s also the advantage of instantaneous computing power. In an interview with Popular Mechanics, lead researcher Professor Ross D King illustrated a maze with two paths — one leading left and the other leading right. He explained that current “Electronic computers need to choose which path to follow first.” On the other hand, a DNA computer “doesn’t need to choose, for it can replicate itself and follow both paths at the same time, thus finding the answer faster.”
While there are pioneering companies and individuals working on perfecting the system, at the moment coding just 1 megabyte of information into DNA costs $12,500. Most information we own contains thousands of megabytes, making encoding information a particularly expensive endeavor to undertake.
However, cost is currently the only drawback to the operation. DNA is not only the most reliable resource to store information, but it’s also the best medium to copy information. Just as sequencing a genome dropped from $2.7 billion to a low of $280, experts hope to see a similar trend in encoding computing information in DNA.