Computers have enhance the study of Biology tremendously, as welldiscoveries have enhance the progression of computers. Withoutcomputers, Biology would be no where.
We would not have the hightech microscopes. We would not be able to process information atlighting speeds. Finally, we would have no place to store all theinformation that we gathered. Can you imagine all the paper we woulduse to record all the information that we gather? Computers have not only helped us with experimenting; they havehelped us to educate students. There has been tons of softwaredeveloped to educate students about science and in particular Biology.
They have allowed students to create experimental 3D models, collectresearch and now students can even use computers to dissect “VirtualCreatures” Aimed at middle school and high school students, Virtual Creatures is thecreation of a group called SUMMIT (Stanford University Medical Mediaand Information Technologies Group). SUMMIT was founded eightyears ago to create computer-based teaching tools for the StanfordUniversity School of Medicine and has expanded to provide educationalmultimedia for medical students and doctors. This program will allow students to dissect frogs without the scalpels,probes or formaldehyde. Without touching the frog, you can rotate it toview it from any angle and study its external anatomy. On command, theskin turns transparent. You can even zoom through it to view the muscles,or peel the muscles back to expose the internal organs and skeleton.
The Virtual Creatures team used virtual reality technology to create a richenvironment — called Frog Island — with many opportunities forinteractive learning. After being greeted by a ranger who explains how toget around the island, students can visit, in any order, a series of huts,each focusing on a different aspect of frog biology: muscles, organsystems, bones, nerves, habitat and so on. With this virtual reality modelstudents don’t have to worry about real-life constraints. For instance,you can take a frog apart in any sequence.
You could start with thedigestive system and then put it back together. This as you would expect does require a lot of processing power andhigh-end graphics. But the speed of innovation in the computer industryshould soon make the necessary technology affordable for many schools. The SUMMIT team is also looking at ways to transfer most of theprocessing work to a central computer, which students and teacherscould access by logging on from a cheaper computer. This is where biology has actually helped computers develop. Biologyand the study of proteins and molecular biology have helped scientistsdevelop new ways of building computers.
They have helped reduce thesize and cost of creating components for a computer system. Imagine if we could create a storage medium the size of a sugar cube thatstores a terabyte of information. Imagine if I said that it would not bebased on silicon transistors, but would be based on protein molecules thatchange their shape when exposed to light. This enables them to store andtransfer massive amounts of data.
This technology is called Nanotechnology. It is leading to thedevelopment of electronic components at the molecular and atomiclevels. Single bits are going to be represented by single atoms. Chipsizes have been shrinking at an incredible rate. If they continue at thecurrent pace now, it will so be more expensive to shrink then it’s worth.
This new technology may provide the answer in protein-based computing. Researchers are currently studying several molecules to find a possible”biology standard” for designing computers. The most popular moleculeis a protein called bacteriorhodopsin. Although we are just hearing aboutit now, Soviet scientists have been interested in this protein since the early70’s.
They recognized the potential of the molecule to act as a switch withon and off positions. This is basically how the silicon transistors worktoday. While silicon transistors alter its state when a current of electricityexcites the electrons in it, a protein changes its shape when it absorbslight. A laser beam is used to control the switching in a matrix of memorycells. Bacteriorhodopsin is a complex protein found in most salt-marshenvironments. It contains a light-absorbing component called achromophore.
When this chromosphore is exposed to light, such as alaser beam, it absorbs the rays and causes a series of internal processesto occur with in the bacteriorhodopsin. This changes the electricalcharacter. Scientists can then translate these resulting electrical changesinto the binary language. This is the language that the computer willunderstand. This experiment has better results when scientists add a second laser. This creates something called a sequential one-photon architecture.
Forlong-term memory applications many bacteriorhodopsin devices tend tocreate one stable element aside from the natural state, thereby giving youthe requisite 0 and 1. Adding another laser beam also enables engineersto create a special intermediate state that can branch into two other stablestates. This is especially useful for an application becoming popular notonly in biological circles, but in the holographic community as well; 3Dstorage. The whole goal here is to create a tiny cube that can store vast amountsof storage.
Holographers have another method to reach this goal. Theyarrange two sets of laser beams at 90-degree angles. They all face abacteriorhodopsin cube. After the first set is fired, a special intermediatestate, which we’ll call A, is created. When the number of A elementsreaches a near-maximum level, scientists then fire the second set oflasers. This causes the A state to switch to a different short-livedstructure, which we’ll call B.
Soon after, structure B changes into a highlystable format, which we’ll call C. Scientists are really excited about thisformat because it can remain stable for years. When they assign the base state to 0 and the B and C to 1, engineershave re-created the binary switching technology. The lasers have theability to read and write to multiple locations within the bacteriorhodopsinsimultaneously; thus this creates faster parallel operations that can beimplemented.
The engineers have estimated that they can performoperations at a rate of 10MB per second. There are however some problems with this new technology. Writing isnot a big problem, but reading is. Errors can occur because of noise fromthe laser interfering with the read signal. Another problem is themolecular structure.
In order for this to work as high-speed memorythese bacterorhodopsin cubes must be uniformly the same. Anyvariation in the structure could change or distort the data. Theseproblems are being worked and develop by a man named Dr. RobertBirage of Syracuse University.
Biology and computers have always been intertwined with each other. Computers are helping teachers teach the subject, and they are helpingresearchers to research and make more discoveries at lighting speeds. Biology is also advancing computer technology. We can see this with thenew nanotechnology.
This kind advancement is not going to slow downanytime soon. Researchers will continue to discover new things inBiology, and will continue to invent faster ways to push the computersystems they use. Computers and Biology Biology 101 10 wk session References: 1. Aubrey, David. Progressive proteins.
Computer Shopper, April 1996. Vol 16n4. P563. Online: SearchBank. 2.
Levin, Carol. High Protein Computers. PC Magazine. May 30, 1995.
Vol 14 n10. P29. Online: SearchBank. 3.
“”Virtual Creatures” Teach Biology Without Dissection,”http://www. infoseek. com/Content?arn=BW0236- 19980709&qt=biology&lk=noframes&col=NX&kt=A&ak=news1486.