Living Computers

Can we actually store technological information in ourselves??

Biology — by Quanta Magazine

Have you ever wondered why when you unplug your alarm, the time resets? Or maybe why your computer charge drains quickly? Computers are the heart of our lives, as they contain our technological DNA, or our data. But what about our real DNA? We’re constantly thinking of how much smaller we can make computers. We constantly look at the latest and greatest chips at the nanoscale, and are now pursuing even smaller devices called quantum computers. However, instead of getting smaller, what if we just get smarter? This time, it’s not about AI or LSTMs, but instead the smartest lifeforms of all: humans. But before we jump straight into that, we need to consider the many possibilities that biological systems can provide us. There’s a lot to cover, so consider this a TL;DR guide for biocomputing!

1. 🧬 …wait what?

We’ve all heard of DNA. You know, that thing that you probably learned about in a genetics, biology, or a 6th grade science classes. Well, to answer the rather obscure impression you got from just reading the title, the short answer is not yet. However, it is currently possible to store information in something inside of us, called our DNA.

Our DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a fundamental building blocks for our genes, but is also an optimal environment for digital data storage. In short, DNA’s made up of molecules called nucleotides, which are building blocks made up of a deoxyribose sugar (ribose in RNA), a phosphate group, and a nitrogenous base. For DNA, four nitrogen-containing base options are available. There are two classifications given, known as purines, which are larger, two-ring structures, and pyrimidines, smaller, one-ring structures. These purines are called adenine and guanine, while the pyrimidines are called thiamine and cytosine. Due to DNA’s unique puzzle like sequencing, the purines and pyrimidines bond, with adenine always bonding to thiamine, and guanine always pairing to cytosine. This determines fundamental DNA properties and double stranded architecture.

Time to learn up ON DNA data storage!

  • We take our D on DNA, comprised of 4 nitrogenous bases, adenine (A), thiamine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G).
  • We then convert binary information, the fundamental langugage of computers defined as 1s and 0s.
  • Each of the nitrogenous bases are mapped using the DNA color schemes. The DNA is then synthesized based off of the organization of the bases.
  • DNA presents a really powerful storage form factor; it is practically timeless, small, and uses more complex language format for comprehensiveness.
  • Therefore information can easily be extracted and stored. In fact, the world’s information — multiple petabytes of information — can be stored in just a shoebox using DNA
IEEE Spectrum on DNA Encoding

This technology has so much potential for commercialization, and myself, as well as large companies and though leaders are working on developing this novel storage method in a means that is easily accessible.

2. Slime Mold Embedded System 🦠

Kids love playing with slime from dollar stores, or the ones made from activators, shaving cream, and water, but what about the slime found in nature?

The slime mold, or the physarum polycephalum is the classification of large, yellow, and globular eukaryotic organisms that can also exist as singular cells, and look something like this:

The Slime Mold by New Scientist

Though the slime molds do not have brains or neuron complexes, they are exceedingly intelligent, especially when considering their lack of a neural structure. Slime molds posses a remarkable and innate capacity to solve very different problems. From numerous different trials, slime molds have been shown to be able to

⌦ Model optimal railway systems through their complex internal substructures

⌦ Determine the shortest path in a maze through organic movement

⌦ Learn from teaching and new travel patterns from external natural examples

Computational use of sliiimmee!

In normal computers, we use resistors, which help to efficiently module the flow of electricity through a circuit. In using these technologies, our conventional semiconductor memory has presented a much less efficient system in maximizing random-access memory (RAM), and general storage in conventional computing systems. However, the smile mold sector presents a whole new resistor type with an accelerated memory capacity, called a memristor, which would take the place of its conventional counterpart.

Memristors also concern the idea of Resistive Random Access Memory, or RRAM, or Re-RAM, a dual component systems of terminals. In this way, the two-terminal system that gives it a unique electronic expression that allows it to determine its last resistance state, thus giving it the characteristic memristance.

With slime molds, this same process is achieved, except the current is passed through the intelligent life form, which effectively acts as a memristor, allowing it to retain memory hyper efficiently, and learn when to “switch” on and off to pass current through it, making it an extremely vital step in making more efficient computational systems.

Human Cells 🧫 — A Computing Game Changer

We’ve gone from thing to thing, highlighting its capability in creating new, more efficient computers and storage devices. Now its time for the precipice of this technology: utilizing human cells for computation.

Human Cell Illustration on dLife

The human eukaryotic cell is a multiorganelle cell containing numerous types of structures within it, such as the double-membraned nucleus, the mitochondria, ribosomes, and the endoplasmic reticulum, with a liquid inside of it called the cytoplasm allowing the different organelles to essentially “swim” inside these structures. These ~37.2 trillion cells in our bodies use their different cellular structures to interact with the rest of the body and help us to survive and run different metabolic processes, like cellular respiration, a catabolic process that tears down complex molecules into simpler ones, effectively producing energy. Our cells also have extended interactions with subatomic particles, namely hydrogen ions (H+) and electrons.

Cell Computers? Is that like a cell phone??

Hmmm… I’m thinking that in the near future, we’re definitely going to repurpose the word “cell phone”, because biocomputing is definitely going to give it a completely new meaning.

Currently, there have been some significant strides in biotechnology concerning using CRISPR to infuse our cells with biocomputer processors. This is just an impressive stride byt ETH Zurich, with the final goal being our cells being the computers that we use. Right now, its unrealistic to say that would be possible on a day to day basis anytime soon, but the cell could prove to be an optimal processing unit for computers. In fact, cells could be use for so much more in side of computers.

Let’s think about it. A computer uses primarily transistors, storage units, circuitry, resistors, and energy units to accelerate electricity flow, allow for data inhibition or movement, and consistently power itself without being constantly tethered to an outlet. The human cell has all of these things too:

⌦ Energy banks/wear houses called the mitochondria, and their complex structure with folds and surfaces could prove to be more efficient

⌦ They have microtubule pathways that allows for electrically charge molecules to pass through with a gradient

⌦ They have an energy currency called ATP for recharge, and can make it by being powered through natural substances

⌦ They have a center, called the nucleus, which holds numerous organelles and is practically a home hub

⌦ They contain so many more organelles that could serve a variety of functions as a computer

Right now, the field of biocomputing isn’t yet completely possible, so don’t get your hopes up too much yet! However, we can be super excited to see what nature will give us, and how we can utilize it!

My name is Okezue Bell, and I’m a 14 y/o innovator/entrepreneur in the quantum computing, blockchain, and AI spaces. I’m also currently making developments in foodtech, as well as biocomputing! Contact me more:

✉️ Email: okezuebell@gmail.com

🔗 LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/okezue-a-...

📑 Medium: https://medium.com/@okezuebell

🌍 TKS Acc: https://tks.life/profile/okezue.bell

📱 GitHub: https://github.com/BellAI-Code

💻 Personal Website: https://okezuebell.squarespace.com [password is 0; squarespace purchase not working lol]

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Okezue Bell

Okezue Bell

Social technologist with a passion for journalism and community outreach.