PAT Roberts

How fluorescence filters can help sugar do sums

Fluorescence filters are part of a process that allows computers to be built using sugar, and not silicon.

Scientists at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena in Germany have demonstrated how simple logic gates – the building blocks of computing – can be built using sugar.

The key to this is introducing sugar solution to a fluid that fluoresces in its presence, a process that may in turn be prevented from occurring using a fluorescence inhibitor or ‘quencher’.

Using fluorescence filters to detect this light effectively creates an optical circuit with binary 1 signals when the mixture fluoresces, and binary 0 signals when it does not.

The ‘sugar computer’ is not intended to be a chemical equivalent to modern computing electronics – it takes around 40 minutes to perform a function such as ’10 + 15 = 25′.

Instead, it offers a way to build biological pipelines to allow things like urine and blood samples to be analysed across several different parameters.

As a result, this ‘molecular computer’ – despite operating much more slowly than its electronic counterparts – could still accelerate, or at least simplify, biological analyses.