Scientists reveal new super-fast form of computer that 'grows as it computes'

March 1, 2017, University of Manchester
DNA double helix. Credit: public domain

Researchers from The University of Manchester have shown it is possible to build a new super-fast form of computer that "grows as it computes".

Professor Ross D King and his team have demonstrated for the first time the feasibility of engineering a nondeterministic universal Turing machine (NUTM), and their research is to be published in the prestigious Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

The theoretical properties of such a computing machine, including its exponential boost in speed over electronic and quantum computers, have been well understood for many years – but the Manchester breakthrough demonstrates that it is actually possible to physically create a NUTM using DNA molecules.

"Imagine a computer is searching a maze and comes to a choice point, one path leading left, the other right," explained Professor King, from Manchester's School of Computer Science. "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.

"This 'magical' property is possible because the computer's processors are made of DNA rather than silicon chips. All electronic computers have a fixed number of chips.

"Our computer's ability to grow as it computes makes it faster than any other form of computer, and enables the solution of many computational problems previously considered impossible.

"Quantum computers are an exciting other form of computer, and they can also follow both paths in a maze, but only if the maze has certain symmetries, which greatly limits their use.

"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."

The University of Manchester is famous for its connection with Alan Turing - the founder of computer science - and for creating the first stored memory electronic computer.

"This new research builds on both these pioneering foundations," added Professor King.

Alan Turing's greatest achievement was inventing the concept of a universal Turing machine (UTM) - a computer that can be programmed to compute anything any other computer can compute. Electronic computers are a form of UTM, but no quantum UTM has yet been built.

DNA computing is the performing of computations using biological molecules rather than traditional . In DNA computing, information is represented using the four-character genetic alphabet - A [adenine], G [guanine], C [cytosine], and T [thymine] - rather than the binary alphabet, which is a series of 1s and 0s used by traditional computers.

Explore further: Researchers restore first ever computer music recording

More information: Currin, A., Korovin, K., Ababi, M., Roper, K., Kell, D.B., Day, P.J., King, R.D. (2017) Computing exponentially faster: Implementing a nondeterministic universal Turing machine using DNA. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. (in press). On Arxiv:

Related Stories

First completely scalable quantum simulation of a molecule

July 20, 2016

(—A team of researchers made up of representatives from Google, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, Tufts University, UC Santa Barbara, University College London and Harvard University reports that they have successfully ...

Recommended for you

Scientists produce 3-D chemical maps of single bacteria

November 16, 2018

Scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory—have used ultrabright x-rays to image single bacteria ...

Quantum science turns social

November 15, 2018

Researchers in a lab at Aarhus University have developed a versatile remote gaming interface that allowed external experts as well as hundreds of citizen scientists all over the world to optimize a quantum gas experiment ...

Bursting bubbles launch bacteria from water to air

November 15, 2018

Wherever there's water, there's bound to be bubbles floating at the surface. From standing puddles, lakes, and streams, to swimming pools, hot tubs, public fountains, and toilets, bubbles are ubiquitous, indoors and out.

Terahertz laser pulses amplify optical phonons in solids

November 15, 2018

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg/Germany presents evidence of the amplification of optical phonons ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Mar 01, 2017
Just another form of efficient parallel processing
5 / 5 (1) Mar 01, 2017
Yes, it is a decades old field

In wikipedia, you can look at "Biological computing" and "Amorphous Computing"

One can also look at the work of Pr. Andrew Adamatzky in reaction-diffusion computing & massive parallel computation

And at the work of MIT Amorphous Computing

And many others in the field of "Unconventional Computing" or "Unconventional Programming Paradigms"
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 01, 2017
Seems like we are just determined to create an all-powerful AI that sees us as either a nuisance or food.
1 / 5 (2) Mar 01, 2017
I was having my undergraduate students simulate universal Turing machines on uniprocessor and multiprocessor systems using C, C++, Lisp, and Java — twenty-five years ago. There can be significant gains in speed, but only for algorithms that can benefit from this kind of parallelism.

What I get from this article is that I no longer need to tack on additional memory when the program needs more: it will do that on its own. This is absolutely wonderful!

A system like this could, theoretically, turn the entire cosmos into memory for certain algorithms and inputs, and still be nowhere near finished, but I assume we'd cut the machine's power supply long before that happened (that's also a solution to the all-powerful AI monster; Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics is another)...
not rated yet Mar 01, 2017
Seems to me, implementing this won't be so easy, either in building the DNA or in creating an interface to it. And trying to simulate it with software using conventional computers means that you'll have to add processors and memory as it "grows".
not rated yet Mar 01, 2017
Do they have any wetwear that can actually do this or is it just speculation on what one might be able to do if they did?
not rated yet Mar 02, 2017
Our real universe with quantum mechanics replicating parallel universes is already such a growing endless computer experimenting all the possibilities with sosies of us living all the possibles lifes with the same past.
DNA is not necessary, it is useful and easy because life use it to keep past memory.
not rated yet Mar 03, 2017
I tried to write an answer, a relevant one, but this forum tries to compete with Twitter. 1000 characters, impossible.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2017
I tried to write an answer, a relevant one, but this forum tries to compete with Twitter. 1000 characters, impossible.

Write it in notepad, cut it up into 1000 word strings and post consecutively :)

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.