Using DNA for Carbon-Based Computing

We may be in the early stages of a transition from silicon-based to carbon-based computing. Carbon-based computers may even use DNA to store and process information – and may even be instantiated within living organisms.

For an example, see this article about a new and better way to store “big data” in DNA… potentially even in yeast DNA or other DNA of living things.

A large bacterial colony of yeast could both store and continually replicate and back up large datasets – for example digital documents, images, videos, databases etc.

Of course this makes one wonder if there is already some hidden archive of data stored in the DNA of living things?

There have been a few findings based on analysis of the non-coding regions of “junk DNA” in the human genome and they found non-random distributions that are similar to what we find with languages.

The use of biological wetware to store code and data is not a new idea. This is basically what evolution of DNA based life on Earth has been enacting for millions of years already.

Currently our understanding of evolution is that features that provide the greatest selective advantage will be better preserved and more developed than features with less selective advantage.

Selective advantage has – for billions of years – been focused around physical survival and reproduction of the physical organisms. For example genes that help an organism reproduce are passed down and error corrected better than genes in the “junk DNA” region.

But we are moving into a world where genes that code for processing information are potentially as or more selectively advantageous than genes that code for the physical body and it’s functions.

As this plays out – over thousands to millions of years – it is possible that forms of life might evolve to leverage the data storage and computational capabilities of their own DNA.

In a way, our species is already doing this – as the cited article about DNA data storage illustrates. In the very near future it will be possible to use gene editing techniques such as CRISPR to safely and cheaply write and edit data and programs using our own genomes as storage media.

We might then become walking libraries – and maybe even walking server farms. Because DNA can be used both to store data and to compute with it.

Within the DNA of various cells or organs in our bodies we might carry petabytes of data storage and run trillion CPU scale virtual server farms.

Social behavior and communication could then be thought of as how these separate processes and data stores interact – the protocols of the network.

From this perspective life on earth could be understood as a massively distributed intelligent machine, running on biological substrates. A vast carbon based computation.

All non-biological computing ever done would only represent a minuscule fraction of the total amount of computation this earth-scale system conducts every minute.

This might in fact be what is already happening – but we have not yet found the tea leaves, let alone read them. But the signs are everywhere.

And it is a little ironic that as carbon-based humans move into silicon-based environments like the Web, AR, VR and the Metaverse, we may see silicon-based computing moving into carbon-based computers made out of the human body.

As we transition from silicon-based to carbon-based computing we may discover there are more levels of carbon-based computing within our DNA than we had ever dreamed.