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Researchers Turn Living Cells Into Logic Gates, Moving Toward Cell Circuits

Scientists have managed to engineer cells that behave like Boolean logic gates–an important step toward using living cells as computer circuits. 

Photo by Darren Hauck/Getty Images

Biocomputing—it’s not just for Star Trek Borgs anymore!

Scientists at Johns Hopkins have engineered cells that behave like AND and OR Boolean logic gates, taking an important step toward using living cells to create computer circuits. While previous research in synthetic biology has shown success generating logic gates based on biomolecules in test tubes or Petri dishes, this method, published in Nature Chemical Biology , creates a much faster output signal.

By bringing together two proteins into a complex in the presence of a chemical, the cell’s membrane develops ruffles easily visible under a microscope, all in a matter of seconds. Eventually, researchers may be able to build more complex circuits using these logic gates to form the basis of a full blown cellular computer. Researchers who worked on the project also believe individual cellular circuits could be used as diagnostic agents, or even to further study how the natural output of cells keep bodily functions running smoothly. Whatever comes next, one thing’s for sure—Moore’s Law is alive and well. Next we’ll have circuits made with single atoms!

Video by Jim Festante.