Tim Hornyak
August 3, 2011

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology say they have built what they call the world’s first artificial neural network out of DNA molecules and that it can answer questions correctly.

Postdoctoral scholar Lulu Qian and colleagues describe “how molecular systems can exhibit autonomous brain-like behaviors” in a paper published about their research in the July 21 issue of the journal Nature.

Taking their cue from the limited intelligence exhibited by single-celled organisms, the researchers built four neurons made up of 112 distinct DNA strands (by contrast, the human brain has some 100 billion neurons).

This rudimentary neural network works on a simple input-output mechanism called a strand-displacement cascade. Essentially, synthesized strands of DNA float around in water and join to other strands that have complementary base pair structures, creating an input. When such a union occurs, a strand of DNA will be shed, creating an output.

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