Are bacteria faster than a computer? According a group of biological engineers they are. The scientists have done a research in which they have used the well-known bacteria Escherichia coli to solve a mathematical problem.
The Hamiltonian path is the shortest route between city A to city B along several other cities and at which every city is visited only once. This sounds easy, however this has caused a lot of problems to the navigation systems. If you want to go from Amsterdam to Rome and visit some other European cities, there are millions of possible routes and the system will have to calculate all the separate routes to come to the final solution of the Hamiltonian path. Now the researchers have used bacteria to get a direct overview, in which the bacteria consider all the routes simultaneously.
In the research, they have modified the DNA of the bacteria and let them find the shortest route between three cities. Each city has its own combination of genes, which causes the bacteria to glow red of green. The possible routes between the cities were explored by the random shuffling of DNA. The bacteria that had found the best route fluoresced green and red, resulting in yellow colonies.
Problem solved! Althought this is just a small test and it will be difficult to program a complex computer this way, the researchers are convinced this a proof that demonstrates the possibilities of using bacteria to solve these kind of mathematical problems. According to the researchers their results validate synthetic biology as a valuable approach to biological engineering. Having a computer infected with a virus will not quite be the same anymore.
The study was published in the Journal of Biological Engineering. Related: Crash course on synthetic genomics, Bacteria that eat waste & shit petrol, Bacteria that turn CO2 into energy, Google tracks flue spread via sick searchers, Conversations at the doctor.