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Bacteria computer is good at math, even those pesky story problems

Paul Miller, @futurepaul
May 29, 2008
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Scientists have successfully developed a computer out of E. coli bacteria (again), which has managed to solve the Burnt Pancake Problem -- at least in a limited form. The problem involves creating a golden-side-up stack of pancakes out of all different size pancakes, each of which is burned one side, with the largest pancake on the bottom tapering up to the smallest on top. You can only use a spatula to flip a top section of pancakes, and the math problem is to sort the stack in as few flips as possible. In addition to making regular human mathematicians very hungry, the problem exponentially spirals out of control -- for six pancakes there are 46,080 permutations, for 12 pancakes there are 1.9 trillion. The E. coli computer differs from a regular computer in that it turn each piece of DNA into a simulated pancake, with sections of DNA being flipped to hide from a killer antibiotic if they get the answer right, and killed if they get the answer wrong. With millions of "computers" able to fit in a drop of water, scaling won't be an issue once they figure things out, but for now E. coli can only figure out how to sort two pancakes.

[Thanks, Hraefn]



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