DNA Computing,The Future or the End?The future of computers is in the hands of the nextcentury. The evolution of the Computer Age has become apart of everyday life, and as time proceeds, people aredepending more and more on computer technology. Fromcontrolling a small wrist watch to the largestsuper-computers that can calculated the center of theuniverse, computers are essential for everyone in modernsocieties. Even most societies outside of the civilizedworld are not immune to computer technology because theydo not have to own a computer to be effected by one. Manycultures, and their futures are subjects to the computerage without even being aware of it. Most anything thathas been produced, one way or another, is controlled,scanned, processed, or moved around by some type ofcomputer to manufacture that product for availability inthe market. When a consumer goes to purchase theseproducts, their currency will be stored in a cashregister that will most likely be a type of computer. Theavailability of computers has changed, and is changingeverything we once knew. There are faster ways of beingdiscovered to manufacture goods or control traffic ofthose goods everyday. A quicker and better equippedcomputer would complete a task in minutes when in thepast the simple task-procedure may have taken weeks,months, or even years to accomplish manually.
One of the most recent and fascinating discoverieswas a DNA based computer. Just as we createmathematical computers, computers affect our biologicallives. The connection of the two may have finally beenconceived. Despite their respective complexities,biological and mathematical operations have somesimilarities: The very complex structure of a livingbeing is the result of applying simple operations toinitial information encoded in a DNA sequence; Allcomplex math problems can be reduced to simple additionand subtraction(Friedman). Incredibly, information isstored in actual strands of DNA. This discovery willrevolutionize the future of computers. With the rate oftechnology the human race has acquired in this century,this new type of DNA technology could make computers ofmany types smaller than most people could imagine. Acompact disk with the DNA encoding could have ten timesthe storing capabilities as a any CD produced in theworld today. This new technology also uses nerve typeimpulses which greatly accelerate the speed of storedinformation to be utilized by the computer. It ispossible, that every computer we come in contact withwill be revolutionized by this newly found resource intechnology and this could create unheard of amounts ofinformation storage space on even a simple PC. Thisdiscovery could create more room to expand and introduceincreased functions to satisfy customer needs to thefullest extent (Halper 122).
The mere idea of DNA based computing became knownabout only a few years ago on November 11, 1994, whenLeonard Adleman published an article of the subject inthe acclaimed weekly journal, Science. The articledescribed: Molecular Computation of Solutions ofCombinatorial Problems, was Adlemans documentation ofthe first successful though small-scale attempt atdesigning a DNA based computer. Some critics believe thatthis context would be a fluke and expected Adleman wouldfail. To their surprise, they later found a greatpossibility that this new technology could easily bereproduced. However it will be after the end of thetwentieth century before the bulk of the possibilitiescan be learned about DNA computing. DNA computing is justover three years old, and for this reason, it is tooearly for either great optimism or great pessimism aboutthe technology. Early computers such as ENIAC filledentire rooms, and had to be programmed by punch cards.
Since that time, computers have since become much smallerand easier to use. DNA computers will become more commonfor solving very complex problems; Just as DNA cloningand sequencing were once manual tasks, DNA computers willnow become automated.
The first model, of small scale, could restore memory andcalculate twice as fast as the worlds leadingsuper-computer, for a very economical price. Thuscreating endless possibilities of the use of DNAcomputing for big business, government and many othertypes of organizations (Baum 583).
Once the bulk of its possibilities have been studiedand learned the dawn of DNA based computers would causethe super-computers of tomorrow to be able to handle farmore tasks and information than the computers of today.
Computers today can only handle a few thousand tasks oroperations at the same time, whereas DNA based computerswill have the capabilities to perform billions offunctions simultaneously. This new technology will havethe impact on present day computers as the light-bulb hadon the oil lantern. Adleman explains his view of how the technology worksalong these lines:For the same reasons that DNA was presumablyselected for living organisms as a genetic material, itsstability and predictability in reactions, DNA stringscan also be used to encode information for mathematicalsystems. A single flask might hold 10 to the 19th powerto 10 to the 20th power, strands of DNA, each encoding astring of data in its sequence of Nucleotides. This datacan be manipulated in various ways by the techniques ofmolecular biology. It undergoes combining strands,splitting them, at well-defined points, copying theextracted strands with a given nucleotide sequence, andso on. Then those simultaneous chemical reactions areharnessed to possibly produce a device that performsmillions of times as many operations per second as astate-of-the-art supercomputer(Adleman 1021).
If Adleman is correct then this expansion ontechnology could be as influential as the invention ofthe automobile. Every computer in existence would becomeobsolete, and a machine as minute as a calculator wouldbe as effective as a present PC. Such a compact size ofan operating system, and the availability to use such asystem, this technology would create an entirely newaspect on our standard of living. Theoretically abusiness could use a DNA based computer as small as acalculator which would handle every operation better thanthe whole disk operating system (DOS) they may bepresently using. There is an enormous amount of information which hasnot yet been researched. Many errors are certain to existin any type of technology as it is researched anddeveloped. Error control is achieved mainly throughlogical operations, such as running all DNA samplesshowing positive results a second time to reduce falsepositives. Some molecular proposals, such as using DNAwith a peptide backbone for stability, have also beenrecommended(Friedman). The one main question with DNAbased computing is whether the possibilities alreadyexisting will become what it is hoped to become. Yet ifthe correct steps are taken and what Adleman hasdeveloped holds true, then the world will be a differentplace in a matter of a few short years. However ifAdlemans ideas fail they will need a great deal ofadditional technology to revise them. So far, mostindications of this technologies success appearpromising, but there is no indication of the exact timeit will take to develop this technology. It could takeyears or even decades to reach a higher use of Adlemansideas. Therefore his ideas have a long time and muchresearch to make or break themselves, but the research isdefinitely a worthwhile study though not enough ispresently known about the relative aspects of attainingsuch a technology. There is only speculation at thispoint.
However science and technology must ask what if,and thus the future is an endless pot of possibilities.
Considering all things possible, this design could effectmany aspects of human existence. For instance with DNAbased computing it would be possible to create awristwatch that could call home or organize a dailyplanner. We may even find ourselves playing futuristicvideo game systems more powerful and capable to performtasks than ever before, with games of more detail anddepth than the human eye can perceive. With thistechnology we may someday carry cellular phones smallenough to fit in a wallet or carrying a hand held PC withmore capabilities than the best present day homecomputers. In addition to the direct benefits of usingDNA computers for performing complex computations, someof the operations of DNA computers already have, andperceivably more will be used in molecular andbiochemical research(Friedman). It could affect themedical world by creating the possibility of a prostheticlimb that can move and feel by being linked to the humannervous system. DNA based computing would advance thepossibilities of Prosthetic eyes for the blind that cansee and move by also being connected to the nervoussystem(Kosko 96-97). An even more interesting possibilityis a type of robotics immune system, that could beimplemented into the bloodstream. Once it is inside thebody it would be capable of fighting off any infectionswithin milli-seconds. This could create cures of massmultitudes of many presently incurable diseases. Yet with the possibilities of technologicaladvancement comes the risk of technological destruction.
Even computers themselves are somewhat susceptible tocomputer viruses. If the robot immune system were to beaffected with a functional viruses while or before it isinjected into a subject, human life could be at stake. The future is endless as long as mankind doesnt ruinit by attempting to bring the technology of tomorrow totoday without first understanding the downfalls andpossible out comes of todays problems. These computerscould be the downfall of the earths future or merely onemas failure. Yet if the new technology is researched anddeveloped at a cautious rate, then DNA based computingmay take wings and soar high in the 21st century. Thenagain it may be the slow bus into the 22nd century. Onlythe future will be able to confirm the premonitions forwhat is to become of the computer world. Works CitedAdleman, Leonard. Molecular Computation of Solutions toCombinatorial Proteins. Science 11 Nov.
Baum, Eric. Building an Associative Memory Vastly LargerThan the Brain. Science 28 Apr. 1995:583-87.
Friedman, Yali. Prodigy web site.
Halper, Mark. A World of Servers Great and Small. Forbes 3 Jun. 1996:122-34.
Kosko, Bart. Heaven In a Chip. Datamation 15 Feb.
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