When constructing computer circuits, most folks start with silicon and metal, but not the researchers at Stanford. The boffins in Palo Alto want to build computers out of living tissue, and to that end they've created a biological transistor, called the transcriptor. Transcriptors substitute DNA for semiconductors and RNA for the electrons in traditional transistors -- essentially, the transcriptor controls the flow of a specific RNA protein along a DNA strand using tailored combinations of enzymes. Using these transcriptors, researchers built logic gates to derive true/false answers to biochemical questions posed within living cells. Using these bio-transistors, researchers gain access to data not previously available (like whether an individual cell has been exposed to certain external stimuli), in addition to allowing them to control basic functions like cellular reproduction.
This new breakthrough -- when combined with the DNA-based data storage and a method to transmit DNA between cells the school's already working on -- means that Stanford has created all the necessary components of a biologic computer. Such computers would allow man to actually reprogram how living systems operate. Of course, they haven't built a living genetic PC just yet, but to speed up its development, the team has contributed all the transcriptor-based logic gates to the public domain. Looking to build your own biologic computer? A full explanation of the transcriptor awaits below.