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October 17, 2006

DNA Computing Targets West Nile Virus, Other Deadly Diseases

Researchers say that they have developed a DNA-based computer that could lead to faster, more accurate tests for diagnosing West Nile Virus and bird flu. Representing the first "medium-scale integrated molecular circuit," it is the most powerful computing device of its type to date, they say.


Macdonald and her associates showcased the computer's potential by engaging MAYA-II in a complete game of tic-tac-toe against human opponents, winning every time except in the rare event of a tie. Shown in the foreground of the picture above is a cell-culture plate containing pieces of DNA that code for possible "moves"; a display screen (background) shows that the computer (red squares) has won the game against its human opponent (blue).

Composed of more than 100 DNA circuits, MAYA-II is quadruple the size of its predecessor, MAYA-I, a similar DNA-based computer developed by the research team three-years ago.

The computer always makes the first move by activating the center well. Instead of using buttons or joysticks, a human player makes a "move" by adding a DNA sequence corresponding to their move in the eight remaining wells. The well chosen for the move by the human player responds by fluorescing green, indicating a match to the player's DNA input. The move also triggers the computer to make a strategic counter-move in one of the remaining wells, which fluoresces red. The game play continues until the computer eventually wins, as it is pre-programmed to do, Macdonald says. Each move takes about 30 minutes, she says.

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