Biotechnological prank – E. coli have solved a complicated mathematical problem

We often write here about the possibilities of artificial intelligence, although it turns out that biology is not lagging behind. Recently, bacteria that are dangerous to our health have been shown to be like ambrosia for bionic computer chips. Symbiosis of technology with Escherichia coli, sounds interesting, right?

MIT Technology Review decided to introduce us to a very interesting “character” – a bacterium, quite familiar to the human kind. We are of course talking about the bacterium Escherichia coli, which the e-biotechnology describes it in such a way that we might even consider it our good friend.

This bacterium is part of the bacterial flora of warm-blooded animals, including our own. Measures itself ok. 2 micrometers and has a diameter of up to 0.8 micrometers. It is quite a mobile creature, anaerobic though it can breathe it. Ferments glucose, lactose, maltose and other carbohydrates to produce acid or acid and gas.

What the E bacterium can be used for. coli?

The properties of this cellular bacterium are very well studied because of the huge amount of time this microbe has already spent with scientists in cozy laboratory rooms. It is used to measure the level of water pollution, by measuring its presence in the fluid of a given reservoir.

Portal also indicates its use in medicine as a probiotic. Taking drugs from a special strain of these bacteria can keep ulcerative colitis patients in remission.

Escherichia coli strain Nissle 1917 regulates ZO-1 gene expression. This is significant in its effect on stabilizing the tight junctions between enterocytes, which is a guarantee of a more tightly sealed intestinal barrier.

Dirty hands disease and other negative consequences of E exposure. coli

Patoes of this bacterium are no longer so kind to us. They can cause inflammation, diarrhea, ulcers, cell detachment or damage the mucous membrane inside our digestive system. Dirty hands disease is another term for contracting this pathogen, but it doesn’t have to do with dirty hands.

Science’s friend

MIT Technology Review praises the applications of the eponymous stick, which has helped scientists make breakthroughs in DNA research, biofuel or the Covid vaccine from Pfizer.

The most interesting feature of this bacterium is its ability to solve the computational maze problem, which is the reason for its obvious and main life function – reproduction. Turns out a bacterium solves a computational problem using distributed computing, dividing the necessary computations among different types of genetically engineered cells.

Course of the experiment

An experiment at the intersection of mathematics, physics, computer science, biology and chemistry. Study interesting because it shows the complexity of the world. The experiment was to create such concoctions that have the right molecular structure. These in turn were to provide a living environment for specially selected groups of bacteria E. coli.

Chemical recipes were extracted from a 2 × 2 grid to represent the maze problem. The scientists responsible for this project, Bagh and his colleagues, mathematically translated the problem into a truth table consisting of 1 s and 0 s, showing all possible configurations of mazes. They later mapped their results, which told them to develop 16 suitable concoctions, for different sets of bacteria.

These groups had different genetic circuits that detected and analyzed the relevant ingredients in the concoctions.
MIT compares such collections of bacteria to a living computer that uses cells to perform a series of calculations. If the maze is solved then the fluid begins to glow.

The results were checked after two days. It was shown that if there is a solution then the bacteria are able to find the right paths in the maze. This turned out to be possible in only three cases, which according to mathematical calculations is not at all that easy to prove, and according to E. coli yes.

Biological computing power

Biology differs from machines in one fundamental feature – it lives. While we may wonder if artificial intelligence is not already showing signs of thinking and those thoughts of realization, in the case of biology, we don’t have to put it under the thought process because it is obvious.

However, organisms have their own purposes, which make scientific research using them difficult. The main characteristics of cells according to David McMillen are natural selection and entropy, or the ability to adapt and reproduce before annihilation and decay, which is hard to fight to achieve your scientific intentions. But the game is worth the candle.

– One teaspoon of bacteria has more logic gates than, I think, 2 billion Xeon processors and more memory in its DNA than the entire Internet. Biology has incredible computational power and it does this by distributing it over huge numbers of cells – argues synthetic biologist, Chris Voigt. However, such great computing power comes with a limitation, namely speed – It takes 20 minutes to process a gate, so it is very slow – Voigt adds.

The future of cybersecurity and biotechnology under E. coli?

Microbiology has a huge amount of room for improvement. Experiment with E. coli proves that scientists are using microorganisms to develop multiple cell types, each with different functions, to perform a specific task. By working together they are able to “compute”, i.e. solve the problems posed to them

According to Bagh’s notion, a biological computer could be designed to help in cryptography or steganography to encrypt and hide data. However, the data protection branches are not all.

An MIT researcher managed to program DNA with a calculator algorithm and generate a digital display with fluorescent E bacteria. coli . However, this had a limitation due to the type of bacterial colony, which does not allow the creation of more complex systems.

Scientists are trying to develop biotechnological transmission networks not limited to a system of computation based on zeros and ones, and aiming for the chaos and disorder characteristic of bacteria. – If we are to play with living technology, we must play by the rules of living systems – says synthetic biologist Ángel Goñi-Moreno of the Polytechnic University of Madrid. In the future, perhaps bio-computers will be available to develop agricultural strategies or adapt disease treatments.

Mobile Trends editors find the topic of synthetic biology to be as important and inspiring as issues of quantum physics, the capabilities of AI or the range of UX complications involved in app design. After all, who would have thought that the bacteria E. coli can be a bio-computer?