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Technology & Innovation

How Bacteria Could Replace the Microchip

Researchers at a British university have turned to Mother Nature to maintain the current rate of progress in the computer industry, specifically a bacterium which contains iron oxide. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Scientists are investigating special bacteria in hopes of finding an organic way to maintain the current rate of progress in the computer industry. Researchers at the University of Leeds, in Britain, have taken inspiration from Magnetospirillum magneticum, “a bacterium that is sensitive to the Earth’s magnetic field thanks to the presence within its cells of flecks of magnetite, a form of iron oxide.” By coating a checkered golden plate with the proteins that produce the bacterium’s magnetite, scientists were able to coax to the iron oxide flecks onto the conductor. In principle, the squares on the plate could store the “one” or “zero” of a bit of information. 

What’s the Big Idea?

Moore’s Law famously states that the number of transistors which can be put into a given space doubles every 18 months. Maintaining that rate of progress as computer components shrink in size, however, is getting expensive. Intel, for example, has placed a price tag of $10 billion on its next chip-building factory. So some scientists are turning to Mother Nature, which as been making chips in the form of single-celled organisms for billions of years. The advantage to a natural system would be that growing things is not nearly as expensive as building them. 

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