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Stanford Researchers Discover Genetic Transistors That Transform Cells Into Computers

Update Date: Mar 30, 2013 01:41 AM EDT

Stanford University researchers announced this week that they've created genetic receptors that can act as a sort of "biological computer," a major step forward in the emerging field of synthetic biology.

The startling achievement was announced in the journal Science which predicts the day when "living computers' inside the human body could screen for cancer, detect toxic chemicals or even turn cell reproduction on and off.

"Transcriptors are the key component behind amplifying genetic logic," lead author Jerome Bonnet, a bioengineer at Stanford University, said in a statement. On their own, these devices do not represent a computer, but they allow for logical operations, such as "if this-then that" commands, one of three basic functions of computers (the other two being storing and transmitting information).

"We're going to be able to put computers inside any living cell you want,' said researcher Drew Endy of Stanford's School of Engineering.

"We're going to be able to put computers into any living cell you want," lead researcher at the Stanford School of Engineering Drew Endy explained to the San Jose Mercury News. "We're not going to replace the silicon computers. We're not going to replace your phone or your laptop. But we're going to get computing working in places where silicon would never work."

The team demonstrated their work using E. Coli bacteria, an organism commonly used in genetic research.

"Any place you want a little bit of logic, a little bit of computation, a little bit of memory -- we're going to be able to do that,' said Endy. Conceptually, it's like electronics, where a transistor controls the flow of electrons along a circuit.

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