Biological supercomputers to be powered by molecular motors

Crashing computers or smartphones - and security loopholes that allow hackers to steal millions of passwords - could be prevented if it were possible to design error-free software. To date, this is a problem that neither engineers nor current supercomputers have been able to solve.

A major reason for this is the computing power required to verify large programs. Today's computers use vast amounts of electric power – so much so that the inability to cool the processors actually hampers the development of more powerful computers. In addition, they cannot do two things at the same time, which affects the processing speed needed.

The EU is now funding a large project that aims to develop technology for an extremely powerful computer based on highly efficient molecular motors. The motors will use a fraction of the energy of existing computers, and will be able to tackle problems where many solutions need to be explored simultaneously.

"We expect this alternative approach to solving problems to open up new ways of handling very large calculations" says Professor Alf Månsson, Linnaeus University.

"Practically all really interesting mathematical problems of our time cannot be computed efficiently with our current computer technology." adds Dan V. Nicolau, Ph.D. M.D., from the UK-based enterprise Molecular Sense, who had the original idea of using biomolecular motors as computers.

How it Works

The idea is that biomolecular machines, each only a few billionth of a meter (nanometers) in size, can solve problems by moving through a nanofabricated network of channels designed to represent a mathematical algorithm - an approach they call "network-based biocomputation".

Whenever the biomolecules reach a junction in the network, they can decide to add a number to the sum they are calculating or leave it out. That way, each of the myriad of biomolecules acts as a tiny computer with processor and memory.

While an individual biomolecule is much slower than a current computer, they are self-assembling so that they can be used in large numbers, quickly adding up their computing power. The researchers have demonstrated that this works in a publication in the prestigious scientific periodical PNAS.

One million € of this funding will go to the Linnaeus University and Alf Månsson, professor of physiology. The role of Alf Månsson's group at Linnaeus University will be to modify the function and properties of the motor proteins actin and myosin from muscle to optimize their use in the biocomputation device.

"When we manipulate the proteins we obtain much new knowledge about their function that is not possible to get by other methods", Månsson says. These insights will be useful beyond the specific project goals such as clarifying the roles of the proteins in serious diseases that can affect the heart, other muscles, or the nervous system.

"The new project will be of great general value for my research activities as I can employ two qualified researchers for five years", Alf Månsson says with great strengthening of the research environment.

About the research project

The five-year project Bio4Comp (2017-2021) is funded by Horizon 2020, the EU framework program for Research and Innovation under the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) Grant Agreement No 732482. More information can be found on the research consortium's webpage:

The research consortium will focus on developing the technology required to scale up network-based biocomputers to a point at which they are able to compete with other alternative computing approaches such as DNA computing and quantum computing.

In the process, they aim to attract a larger scientific and economic community that will focus on developing the technology into a viable alternative computing approach.

Bio4Comp is co-ordinated by Lund University, and university´s, institutes and companies from Germany, Israel and Great Britain are also part of it together with Linnaeus University in Sweden.

Bio4Comp: Figure 1