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The DNA test: or why PCBs will someday be replaced ... again. (Short Circuits).

"THEY'LL HAVE TO mount it on something."

That's the standard reply of PCB designers, design engineers and manufacturers when told that a certain new technology will soon render the lowly circuit board obsolete.

You've probably heard the rallying cries: MCMs are replacing PCBs as we speak! Fiberoptics will spell the end of the PCB! System-on-a-chip will make the PCB a thing of the past! Optoelectronics will really, really replace PCBs! I'd bet that most of you didn't pay much attention to "The Fiberoptic Epidemic of '87" or "The Great SoC Scare of '99." These technologies gave high-tech journalists something to write about, but the circuit board somehow survived.

The latest advance to send the futurists running to their thesauruses is the so-called DNA computer. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, have created a liquid computer made up of a mixture of enzymes and DNA. This "DNA soup" can perform 330 trillion operations per second, 100,000 times faster than the fastest PC. And it runs on the power of its own DNA input.

How does this work? According to an article on the National Geographic Web site, you just combine the enzymes and DNA molecules in a test tube, sit back and watch the stuff bubble, much like Act I of Macbeth. Researchers know enough about the way these two ingredients react with each other that simple operations can be performed as byproducts of their reactions. The enzymes function like hardware, and the DNA the software. The computer is given instructions by controlling the composition of the DNA molecules.

For now, there are a lot of things that this DNA computer can't do. It has a finite memory, and it can only answer yes and no. It can't perform spell check, nor can it filter out Nigerian 419 e-mail scams. But while most computers are configured to provide one correct answer, the DNA computer can produce billions of possible answers at once. And it's still in its infancy.

Integrating a liquid computer onto a board with its copper interconnect would be a real trick, though it could happen eventually. I wouldn't worry about DNA computers giving the PCB a run for its money any time soon. But it should be fun watching the high-tech journalists run with this one.
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Author:Shaughnessy, Andy
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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