Computing with RNA

Posted: October 19, 2008 by mohir in Computing, Medicine, Molecular Biology
Tags: , , ,
clipped from www.technologyreview.com

Scientists in California have created molecular computers that are able to self-assemble out of strips of RNA within living cells. Eventually, such computers could be programmed to manipulate biological functions within the cell, executing different tasks under different conditions. One application could be smart drug delivery systems, says Christina Smolke, who carried out the research with Maung Nyan Win and whose results are published in the latest issue of Science.
The use of biomolecules to perform computations was first demonstrated by the University of Southern California’s Leonard Adleman in 1994, and the approach was later developed by Ehud Shapiro of the Weizmann Institute of Science, in Rehovot, Israel. But according to Shapiro, “What this new work shows for the first time is the ability to detect the presence or absence of molecules within the cell.”
That opens up the possibility of computing devices that can respond to specific conditions within the cell, he says. For example, it may be possible to develop drug delivery systems that target cancer cells from within by sensing genes used to regulate cell growth and death. “You can program it to release the drug when the conditions are just right, at the right time and in the right place,”

these biocomputers are built from three main components–sensors, actuators, and transmitters–all of which are made up of RNA. The input sensors are made from aptamers, RNA molecules that behave a bit like antibodies, binding tightly to specific targets. Similarly, the output components, or actuators, are made of ribozymes, complex RNA molecules that have catalytic properties similar to those of enzymes. These two components are joined by yet another RNA molecule that serves as a transmitter, which is activated when a sensor molecule recognizes input chemical and triggers an actuator molecule

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