Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have developed and
built a molecular transducer – an advanced computing machine solely out of
biomolecules like DNA and enzymes that can manipulate genetic codes. This
“unprecedented device,” they said, can compute using the output as a new input
for subsequent computations (called an iterative computation).
addition, it produces outputs in the form of biologically meaningful phenomena,
such as resistance of bacteria to various antibiotics. The researchers showed
that their transducer can perform a long division of binary numbers by the
number 3 and preformed an iterative computation.
Prof. Ehud Keinan,
postdoctoral chemistry fellows Dr. Tamar Ratner and Dr. Ron Piran and Dr.
Natasha Jonoska of the department of Mathematics at the University of South
Florida published their work recently in the prestigious journal Chemistry &
Biology of the Cell. Their work may open up interesting opportunities in
biotechnology, including individual gene therapy and cloning.
ever-increasing interest in biomolecular computing devices has not arisen from
the hope that such machines could ever compete with their electronic
counterparts by offering greater computation speed, fidelity and power or
performance in traditional computing tasks,” said Keinan. “The main advantages
of biomolecular computing devices over the electronic computers arise from other
properties. As shown in this work and other projects carried out in our lab,
these systems can interact directly with biological systems and even with living
No interface is required since all components of molecular
computers, including hardware, software, input and output, are molecules that
interact in solution along a cascade of programmable chemical
“All biological systems, and even entire living organisms, are
natural molecular computers. Every one of us is a biomolecular computer, that
is, a machine in which all components are molecules ‘talking’ to one another in
a logical manner. The hardware and software are complex biological molecules
that activate one another to carry out some predetermined chemical tasks. The
input is a molecule that undergoes specific, programmed changes, following a
specific set of rules (software) and the output of this chemical computation
process is another well-defined molecule.
“Our results are significant
because they demonstrate for the first time a synthetic, designed computing
machine that not only computes iteratively, but also produces biologically
relevant results. Although this transducer was employed to solve a specific
problem, the general methodology shows that similar devices could be applied for
other computational problems.
In addition to its enhanced computation
power, this DNA-based transducer offers multiple benefits, such as the ability
to read and transform genetic information, miniaturization to the molecular
scale and the aptitude to produce computational results which interact directly
with living organisms. Therefore, its implementation on a genetic material may
not just evaluate and detect specific sequences, but it can also alter and
algorithmically process the genetic code.
TRYING TO REDUCE FRICTION Prof.
Jacob Klein, of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s department of materials and
interfaces, has been awarded the Gold Medal in Tribology from British Ambassador
Matthew Gould. The prize is the highest award of the Tribology Trust Fund, a
fund administered by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in
Tribology? It isn’t a misspelling of biology, and doesn’t have
anything to do with tribes. Tribology is the study of surfaces rubbing against
each other; it attempts to understand friction, lubrication and wear to avoid
their negative qualities and make use of their positive ones.
was given in recognition of Klein’s innovative research, published in the
journal Nature, on mimicking the lubrication of joints. In the body, bones in
joints are covered with cartilage. Long molecules protrude from the cartilage
into the fluid between the bones. This system reduces friction and allows the
body to move, walk and bend.
Klein’s artificial materials mimic the
body’s system. He uses ceramic surfaces in place of bones and cartilage and
polyelectrolytes in place of long molecules to produce a system which is very
resistant to friction.
Klein’s lubricant is up to a thousand times more
effective than standard lubricants and opens the possibility of myriad uses from
larger hard disks for computers, to better, longer lasting hip joint implants,
as well as treatment of dry-eye syndrome.
When awarding the gold medal,
Gould said: “I am proud to award this medal to Prof. Klein. In the UK, this
award is presented to the winner by a member of the British royalty. My
residence may not be Buckingham Palace, but because I am a diplomat, I am always
anxious to reduce friction.
Therefore, I would like to consider myself a
tribologist as well.”
A ROSE IS A ROSE...
Why do rose petals have
rounded ends while their leaves are more pointed? If this phenomenon has been
worrying you lately, you’re be relieved to hear that British researchers have
found the answer.
Scientists from the University of East Anglia have
published a study in the open-access journal PLOS Biology that found the shape
of petals is controlled by a hidden map located within the plant’s growing
Leaves and petals perform different functions related to their
Leaves acquire sugars for a plant via photosynthesis, which can
then be transported throughout the plant.
Petals develop later in the
life cycle and help attract pollinators. In earlier work, this team discovered
that leaves in the plant Arabidopsis contain a hidden map that orients growth in
a pattern that converges towards the tip of the bud, giving leaves their
characteristic pointed tips.
In the new study, the researchers discover
that Arabidopsis petals contain a similar, hidden map that orients growth in the
flower’s bud. However, the pattern of growth is different to that in leaves – in
the petal growth is oriented towards the edge, giving a more rounded shape –
accounting for the different shapes of leaves and petals.
discovered that molecules called PIN proteins are involved in this oriented
growth, which are located toward the ends of each cell.
“The discovery of
these hidden polarity maps was a real surprise and provides a simple explanation
for how different shapes can be generated,” said senior study author Prof.
The team of researchers confirmed their ideas by using
computer simulations to test which maps could predict the correct petal shape.
They then confirmed experimentally that PIN proteins located at the right sites
are involved in oriented growth, and identified another protein, called JAGGED,
that is involved in promoting growth toward the edge of petals and in
establishing the hidden map that determines petal growth and
Unlike animal cells, plant cells are unable to move and migrate to
form structures of a particular shape, and so these findings help to explain how
plants create differently shaped organs – by controlling rates and orientations
of cell growth. From an evolutionary perspective, this system creates the
flexibility needed for plant organs to adapt to their environment and to develop
different functions, Coen said.
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