REHOVOT, Israel -- The first general- purpose mechanical computer designed for biomolecular and pharmaceutical applications has been developed by Prof. Ehud Shapiro of the Computer Science and Applied Mathematics Department at the Weizmann Institute of Science. The mechanical computer will be presented today at the Fifth International Meeting on DNA-Based Computers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Shapiro's mechanical computer has been built to resemble the biomolecular machines of the living cell, such as ribosomes. Ultimately, this computer may serve as a model in constructing a programmable computer of subcellular size, that may be able to operate in the human body and interact with the body's biochemical environment, thus having far-reaching biological and pharmaceutical applications.
"For example, such a computer could sense anomalous biochemical changes in the tissue and decide, based on its program, what drug to synthesize and release in order to correct the anomaly," Prof. Shapiro said.
The Turing Machine
Unlike existing electronic computers, which are based on the computer architecture developed by John von Neumann in the U.S. in the 1940s, the new mechanical computer is based on the Turing machine, conceived as a paper-and-pencil computing device in 1936 by the British mathematician Alan Turing. The theoretical Turing machine consists of a potentially infinite tape divided into cells, each of which can hold one symbol, a read/write head, and a control unit which can be in one of a finite number of states. The operation of the machine is governed by a finite set of rules that constitute its "software program." In each cycle the machine reads the symbol in the cell located under the read/write head, writes a new symbol in the cell, moves the read/write head one cell to the left or to the right, and changes the control state, all according to its program rules.
Contact: Jeffrey J. Sussman
American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science