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Gizmorama - March 8, 2017

Good Morning,


The headline, "Super-fast computer made from DNA 'grows as it computes,'" scares me. If you have a computer that grows the more you compute on it, where are you going to put it? And how big can they get? It's a little disconcerting, that's all.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,
Erin


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* Super-fast computer made from DNA 'grows as it computes' *

MANCHESTER, England - Scientists have used DNA molecules to create a new, super-fast computer that is capable of "growing as it computes."

The research, detailed in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, is the first to prove the feasibility of a nondeterministic universal Turing machine, or NUTM. Until now, such a computing entity existed only in theory.

"Imagine a computer is searching a maze and comes to a choice point, one path leading left, the other right," Ross D. King, a professor of computer science at the University of Manchester, explained in a news release. "Electronic computers need to choose which path to follow first. But our new computer doesn't need to choose, for it can replicate itself and follow both paths at the same time, thus finding the answer faster."

Unlike electronic computers, which rely on a fixed number of silicon chips, the new NUTM-like device utilizes DNA, which can replicate. No ordered operations or communication is necessary in the new computer -- the DNA is edited or preprogrammed to replicate and carry out an exponential number of computational paths.

Quantum computers and their quantum bits can also generate simultaneous and divergent paths, but they require specific symmetries to function properly, limiting their application and adaptability.

"As DNA molecules are very small, a desktop computer could potentially utilize more processors than all the electronic computers in the world combined -- and therefore outperform the world's current fastest supercomputer, while consuming a tiny fraction of its energy," King said.



*-- Brain mapping gets a boost from new optical nanosenor --*

LAUSANNE, Switzerland - A new optical nanosensor is helping scientists at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland more accurately map the brain. The nanosensor more accurately tracks ionized potassium, a byproduct of neural activity.

When neurons are activated, they release ionized potassium into the space between the cells. The potassium must be diffused and reabsorbed. Scientists measure potassium levels as a proxy for brain activity.

Brain mapping technologies use potassium-sensitive microelectrodes to track neural activity, but the microelectrodes only offer a single-point measurement and struggle to trace movement.

The new fluorescence imaging-based nanosensor allows scientists to track subtle movements of ionized potassium and explore new extracellular spaces within the brain.

Researchers described the breakthrough in the journal Neurophotonics.

"This is a technological breakthrough that promises to shed new light -- both literally and figuratively -- on understanding brain homeostasis," George Augustine, Neurophotonics associate editor and professor of neuroscience at Duke University, said of the new research. "It not only is much less invasive than previous methods, but it adds a crucial spatial dimension to studies of the role of potassium ions in brain function."

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