Science Team Make Gut Bacteria Do Math: Living Computers On Way?

Illustration for article titled Science Team Make Gut Bacteria Do Math: Living Computers On Way?

It may not be quite as sophisticated or cerebral as Starfleet's bio-neural computing gel packs, but scientists have made a start towards this sort of tech by making bacteria solve a math problem. The team from Davidson College and Missouri Western State University added genes to the harmless Escherichia coli, normally found wiggling its way 'round your gut. The result was a bacterial computer able to solve the classic mathematical puzzle called the Burnt Pancake Problem... kind of fitting for a gut bacterium, no?

The puzzle, in the way of these things, sounds deceptively simple: sort a stack of different-sized, one-burnt side pancakes so the largest is on the bottom and all unburnt sides are upwards in the fewest number of flips. The science team replicated the problem with DNA fragments as the pancakes, with genes spliced in from a different bacterium to act as the flipping mechanism. By adding yet one more gene, they made their little bacteria brain resistant to antibiotic when it got to the right answer, effectively stopping the "program" from running.

The team notes that the technique, when expanded into much more sophisticated bacterial systems, has enormous potential power as a massively-parallel processor, and billions of the computing cells take up very little space. Sounds like Starfleets living computers may one day be possible... though the idea of creating a pile of goo that can think and is antibiotic-resistant sounds like the stuff of more than one science-fiction nightmare, doesn't it? [Telegraph]

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This is good news to those of us who weep at the prospect of doing algebra of any kind. (X = no one really cares anyway).