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The problem with the use of traditional electronic processors to process information remains the excessive consumption of electricity. Therefore, turning to biology to solve computer problems appears to be an interesting energy-saving solution. Researchers have just built a biocomputer, about the size of a chip, that uses molecules that travel in channels to solve complex problems (quickly).
According to some researchers, the fast-growing but still energy-intensive ICT sector is expected to consume 20% of global electricity production by 2030. This does not mean that the energy efficiency of electronic computers is not improving, but it is slowing down. By generating heat, small effects (such as quantum) and increased costs.
For ten years, biocomputers have emerged as an interesting alternative in order to reduce the power consumption of computing. As a reminder, biological computers use molecules of biological origin – such as DNA and proteins – to perform numerical or real calculations. In particular, the development of nanoscale biotechnology (at the nanometer scale) has enabled scientists to design specific biomolecular systems, which may eventually lead to the computational function of a computer.
Using this alternative method, Til Korten of Dresden University of Technology (Germany) and colleagues have built a chip-based biocomputer that uses molecules that travel in channels to solve problems. ” Network-based bioinformatics is a very energy-efficient approach, allowing for a combinatorial problem to be encoded in a modular graphic network embedded in a nanoscale device. ”, the researchers report. Since the fusion problem contains a large number of variables, electronic computers will need billions of years to solve it.
Kinesins drive microtubules with high energy efficiency
Next, the physical network – ie a computer chip – is explored by biology, by means of a fluid containing fibers that make up the cell’s cytoskeleton (microtubules) and the motility tube. It is a motor protein that makes it possible to propel molecules, such as microtubules, with high energy efficiency. The researchers explain that the advantage of microtubules is that they all move at the same time, allowing calculations to be performed simultaneously, in addition to being highly accessible. Microtubules move through channels, and each path they take corresponds to the computer’s attempt to solve the specific problem.
” As a result, we estimated that network-based bioinformatics uses several orders of magnitude less power per process than an electronic computer.”Write researchers. In fact, each step of the computation requires 10,000 times less energy to move the biocomputer molecules than that of the electrons of a conventional computer. In addition, compared to other biocomputers using the same technology, a network-based computer will perform 128 times fewer computations.
However, to prove that this new technology is viable, it will be necessary to demonstrate its applicability to other problems of practical importance, and to expand the technology significantly. The researchers would also like to use more molecules in order to speed up how quickly the problem is solved, even if that could lead to more errors by microtubules.