Caltech creates first artificial neural network from DNA


July 22, 2011

Scientists at Caltech have created the world's first DNA-based artificial neural network

Scientists at Caltech have created the world's first DNA-based artificial neural network

One of the things that our brains excel at is the ability to recognize what things are, even when presented with an incomplete set of data. If we know only that an animal is sold in pet stores and stuffs food in its cheeks, for instance, we can be pretty certain that the animal in question is a hamster. Now, for the first time ever, researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have created a DNA-based artificial neural network that can do the same thing ... albeit on a very basic level. They believe that it could have huge implications for the development of true artificial intelligence.

The neural network is made up of just four artificial neurons, as opposed to the human brain's 100 billion real ones.

To test the network, the scientists played a game with it. That game started with the network being trained to "know" four scientists, each one identifiable by a unique combination of yes/no answers to the same four questions (such as "Is the scientist British?"). Human players then chose one of those scientists, and provided the network with an incomplete set of the identifying answers. They did this by dropping DNA strands that were programmed to correspond to those answers, into water in a test tube that contained the neurons.

Communicating through fluorescent signals, the network would then either correctly identify the chosen scientist, it would indicate that it didn't have enough data to identify just one scientist, or it would state that the data didn't match any of the scientists.

This was possible because of the manner in which the added strands of DNA paired with the strands already present in the network. This, in turn, was determined by whether or not the sequences programmed into both strands complimented one another.

It should be noted that the network took eight hours to come up with each of its responses, and that new DNA strands had to be created for each game. Still, the Caltech team state that the technology could ultimately be used for creating biochemical systems with artificial intelligence, which could revolutionize fields such as medicine, chemistry, and biological research.

The research was recently published in the journal Nature.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Imagine if we could create a program with enough of the laws of nature that we could complete experiments in a virtual space. It would greatly speed up the development time of these experiments so that they could bring their results into the physical world for practical application.

Having to wait 6 hours for a result would be a thing of the past and re-setting the experiment instantaneous.

I think that if some of these briliant people got together and built such a thing they would be able to come up with a lot more a lot quicker.


Foxy, without understanding all of the fundamental forces your idea is not possible. Let\'s find the darn Boson!

Renārs Grebežs


Vic Strandskov
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