The model bio-supercomputer is powered by adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the substance that provides energy to all of the cells in a human body. The model is able to process information extremely quickly and accurately using parallel networks, in the same fashion that electronic supercomputers are able to process information.
However, the bio-supercomputer developed by the project team is much smaller and more energy efficient than the current generation of electronic supercomputers, being only the size of a standard-sized book.
The model bio-supercomputer was created with a combination of geometrical modelling and engineering expertise on the nano-scale. Importantly, it is the first step in showing that a biological supercomputer could realistically work in practice.
The circuit created by the researchers is around 1.5 cm square and instead of electrons being propelled by an electrical charge, as is the case with a traditional microchip, short strings of proteins (called ‘biological agents’ by the project team) travel around the circuit in a controlled way. These movements are powered by ATP, a biochemical that enables internal energy transfer among cells.
Traditional supercomputers use a large amount of electricity and thus heat up to such high temperatures that they need to be physically cooled in order to function effectively. To do this, many supercomputers often require their own dedicated power plant.
In contrast, due to being run by biological agents, the bio-supercomputer hardly heats up at all and is consequently much more sustainable and cost-effective. As the technology is developed further over the coming years and possible routes to larger-scale commercialisation are considered, this could become a major selling-point.
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