March 1 (UPI) -- 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.