GPS routesScientists have programmed DNA to calculate multiple GPS routes at the same time.Image credit: American Chemical Society DNA computing could help take the digital era to the next level. Scientists are now reporting progress toward that goal with the development of a novel DNA-based GPS. They describe their advance in the American Chemical Society's The Journal of Physical Chemistry B.

Jian-Jun Shu and colleagues note that Moore's law, which marked its 50th anniversary in April, posited that the number of transistors on a computer chip would double every year. This doubling has enabled smartphone and tablet technology that has revolutionized computing, but continuing the pattern will come with high costs. In search of a more affordable way forward, scientists are exploring the use of DNA for its programmability, fast processing speeds and tiny size. So far, they have been able to store and process information with the genetic material and perform basic computing tasks. Shu's team set out to take the next step.

The researchers built a programmable DNA-based processor that performs two computing tasks at the same time. On a map of six locations and multiple possible paths, it calculated the shortest routes between two different starting points and two destinations. The researchers say that in addition to cost- and time-savings over other DNA-based computers, their system could help scientists understand how the brain's "internal GPS" works.