Where do Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and Information Technology intersect? Investing in basic and applied sciences to fill future Science and Technology gaps DNA-based computing Though usually viewed as “the building blocks of life,” nucleic acids and proteins have a large potential to form the basis of future computers. At their core they represent nano-technology as they generally can be measured on the size ...more »
Where do Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and Information Technology intersect? Investing in basic and applied sciences to fill future Science and Technology gaps
Though usually viewed as “the building blocks of life,” nucleic acids and proteins have a large potential to form the basis of future computers. At their core they represent nano-technology as they generally can be measured on the size scale 1-100 nm. A DNA-based computing chip would utilize nucleic acids site specific binding capacity to process and store greater amounts of information than typical silicon based computing. These essential building blocks provide the ability to perform a very complex set of processes, essential in a cascade of events, utilizing Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) hydrolysis to generate energy to power the DNA-based computers. This computing power may be particularly bio-compatible as inserting DNA-based computers in-vivo should both perform a number of functions and processes, e.g. the ability to analyze and store great quantities of retrievable data.
The current soldier’s uniform provides essentially no proactive chemical or biological protection. A bio-functional uniform can be engineered to mimic in-vivo physiological conditions such as temperature, pH, glucose concentration and atmospheric pressure in nano-environments providing an optimized environment to detect multiple select pathogens/agents. Utilizing the concept of molecular scaffolding, it may be possible to develop an organized network of various nano-laboratories within the uniform. The utilization of a dual-use hydrophobic/hydrophilic functionalized textile offers the ability to "attract" and “repel” a myriad of biological and chemical agents based on an agent’s chemical polarity. Furthermore, the ability of single molecule nucleic acid sequencing through nanopores offers real-time sequencing analysis and biological agent detection on the uniform. Once the agent(s) is detected the release of nano-prophylactics ensures the soldier is diagnosed, treated and managed at the point of contact.
Traditional drug therapy is often administered in large doses, to maintain minimally effective drug levels. Current research efforts have focused on developing inexpensive nano-scale vehicles to deliver chemotherapeutics to tumors with high specificity, cutting the necessary dosages of the drugs while preventing side effects through interactions of the drug with unaffected areas of the body. These vehicles could carrying a “pharmacy” worth of chemotherapeutics, calculating optimal dosages of an appropriate chemotherapeutic for a particular cancer type while potentially having the ability to release and activate their therapeutic payloads at particular points in the body. Essentially, the intelligent-chemotherapeutic delivery vehicle has the ability to discriminate between healthy and diseased tissue so that it may diagnose, treat and manage cancer effectively and efficiently. This technology has the potential to minimize cancer deaths substantially.
Food Safety & Security
The magnitude and extent of recent food-borne disease outbreaks, such as the widespread Salmonella and E. coli. incidents, highlight the potential disasters that could occur should the U.S. food infrastructure become the target of a terrorist attack. These outbreaks are often difficult to investigate and contain because the processing chain of plant and animal food products can be so complex involving first a disperse network of farms, producers and distributors, then restaurants or stores, and many consumers. Plants or animals from a large industrial farm can end up in the products of several different companies. A DNA-genomic tag in each plant or animal, indicating its original source, would make it much simpler to pinpoint the source of an outbreak, limiting its scope and potentially saving many lives. The J. Craig Venter Institute recently incorporated a nucleotide ‘alphabet’ code into the genome of their synthetic self-replicating bacterial cell, proving that genes can be constructed and inserted into the genome of a plant or animal without being expressed, thereby posing no risk to food quality. The ability to precisely locate the origin of infected food products would improve the safety of all Americans as well as saving money by reducing unnecessary recalls.
The Artificial Cell
Engineering a cell from the bottom-up presents an interesting challenge. Starting from non-living organic and inorganic matter, science may create nano-sized cells with life-like properties. This cell would need to be a self-enclosed entity with the ability to self-replicate, metabolize, and interact with other cells and the environment. Current attempts have resulted in light-catalyzed reactions that produce lipid micelles and, within, the replication of RNA. Other experiments include the creation of chips with tiny chemical channels controlled by computers. Despite considerable progress, artificially engineering parts that mimic enzymes, creating algorithms that govern them, and integrating all of the necessary components remains an ambitious task. However, the creation of an artificial cell would allow us to create complex, evolving nano-systems useful towards many ends.
About the Authors
Michael A. Morgan, PhD is an expert and published author on the subject of Bio-nanotechnology. He currently works as consultant supporting the Basic and Applied Sciences Directorate at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.
Emily Osborn supports the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Basic and Applied Research Division, while working on her Master of Science degree in Information Systems at George Mason University.
Timothy Lee is a 2010 Defense Threat Reduction Agency summer intern. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Maryland.
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