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Bacteria can help solve maths problems

Researchers have programmed a virulent microbe, the E coli, to potentially solve complicated mathematics problems. The researchers have found that computing in living cells is feasible, opening the door to a number of applications.

tech reviews Updated: Jul 25, 2009 14:01 IST

Researchers have programmed a virulent microbe, the E coli, to potentially solve complicated mathematics problems.

The researchers have found that computing in living cells is feasible, opening the door to a number of applications.

The second-generation bacterial computers illustrate the feasibility of extending the approach to other computationally challenging maths problems.

A research team comprising four faculty members and 15 biology and maths undergraduates from Missouri Western State University (MWSU) and Davidson College in North Carolina engineered the DNA of E coli.

They were able to create bacterial computers capable of solving a classic mathematical problem known as the Hamiltonian Path Problem.

The Hamiltonian Path Problem asks whether there is a route in a network from a beginning node to an end node, visiting each node exactly once.

The researchers modified the genetic circuitry of the bacteria to enable them to find a Hamiltonian path in a three-node graph.

Bacteria that successfully solved the problem reported their success by fluorescing both red and green, resulting in yellow colonies.

Synthetic biology is the use of molecular biology techniques, engineering principles, and mathematical modelling to design and construct genetic circuits that enable living cells to carry out novel functions, said a MWSU release.

"The research provides yet another example of how powerful and dynamic synthetic biology can be. We used synthetic biology to solve mathematical problems; others find applications in medicine, energy and the environment. Synthetic biology has great potential in the real world," said Jordan Baumgardner, recent graduate of Missouri Western and study co-author.