Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the substance responsible for providing energy to living cells, is more versatile than one would think, new study reveals. In an recent research, scientists from Canada’s McGill University have successfully managed to power special miniature supercomputers using this chemical compound. The breakthrough, the team believes, could pave the way for a generation of biological supercomputers that are significantly less bulky and more efficient than currently-available varieties.
Recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the study outlines the technique used by the researchers to develop a book-sized computer that runs on energy derived from biological sources. According to the team, the newly-built contraption is capable of processing information just as swiftly and accurately as today’s electronic supercomputers, thanks to a design that features multiple parallel networks. Speaking about the decade-long research, Dan Nicolau Sr., the leader of the team, said:
We’ve managed to create a very complex network in a very small area. This started as a back of an envelope idea, after too much rum I think, with drawings of what looked like small worms exploring mazes.
With the help of latest techniques in geometrical modelling and engineering as well as nanotechnology, the scientists created a fully-functional bio-supercomputer, complete with a circuitry that looks like the road map of a well-planned city. Measuring around 1.5 x 1.5 cm in area, it consumes very little energy, and relies entirely on naturally-occurring proteins to function. Unlike conventional computers, in which electrons are driven by electrical charge within a standard microchip, the new contraption features tiny strips of protein (or biological agents) that in turn travel all throughout the circuit with power from ATP.
Traditional computers tend to heat up easily, which then requires additional energy for cooling. By comparison, the bio-powered supercomputer is incredibly sustainable. While a lot of work still needs to be done before a full-sized bio-supercomputer can be created, the current technology has been found to be capable of solving complex mathematical problems via parallel computing. Nicolau added:
It’s hard to say how soon it will be before we see a full scale bio super-computer. One option for dealing with larger and more complex problems may be to combine our device with a conventional computer to form a hybrid device. Right now we’re working on a variety of ways to push the research further.
Source: McGill University