In an essay today in the New York Times today, Stanford Professor Drew Endy, PhD, discusses the future of computing and the potential of developing simple computers that operate inside living cells or other new places. He writes:
Consider a simple "computer" that counts to just 256, using eight bits of data storage. Could such a computer have any significant value?
Well, what if such computers could be installed inside every cell of your body? What if these computers were used to keep track of how many times each of your cells divided, forming the basis of systems that could track and control aging, development and cancer? If too many divisions are detected, programmed cell death could be set off before a tumor had a chance to form.
Such computers would have incredible value for basic research and medical biotechnology. But note that these computers would derive all their value from being able to connect with and compute inside living cells, a place that no silicon-based computer can now operate.
Further into the essay, Endy explains how researchers are developing scalable living data storage systems by tinkering with DNA sequences as well as designing simple computational interfaces using RNA. It's fascinating stuff and well worth a read.