by Sanjeev Kulkarni
Econintersect: Researchers at California Institute of Technology, Pasadena [Caltech] might have harnessed DNA in a artificial primordial soup that exhibits “intelligence”. According to the Primordial Soup Theory life began on earth approximately 3.5 billions years ago. The primordial soup then was an ocean of chemical molecules which combined under the action external energy (solar, thermal) to form larger molecules and make amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Some of these molecules could replicate themselves and thus began a complex sequence of evolutionary drama which resulted in life. All life forms we know today are based on two classes of complex amino acids, Ribonucleic acid or RNA’s, and Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA’s.Artificial Neural Nets modeled after interconnections in our brain have been routinely simulated on computers. An artificial neural network (ANN), usually called neural network (NN), is a mathematical model or computational model that is inspired by the structure and/or functional aspects of biological neural networks. A neural network consists of an interconnected group of artificial neurons which processes information using a “connectionist” approach to computation. Such Neural Nets have demonstrated learning capability and have been successfully used in narrow domains and tasks.
Caltech, has been at the forefront of technology which combines modern computational theories and life sciences. In an interesting insight on how life might have evolved, researchers have harnessed free floating DNA molecules in an artificial primordial soup to solve a complex pattern recognition problem.
Lulu Qian, a researcher at Caltech, asked a simple question:
“Instead of having a physically connected network of neural cells, can a soup of interacting molecules exhibit brain-like behavior?”
“Each test tube held finely-tuned mixtures of DNA strands that made computing input and output decisions by latching onto one another and kicking off other strands. Researchers “trained” the artificial neural network to play a game where it could “recognize” four scientists whose identities were based on specific answers to four yes-or-no questions.”
“Before the brain evolved, single-celled organisms were also capable of processing information, making decisions, and acting in response to their environment,” Qian said. “Perhaps the highly evolved brain and the limited form of intelligence seen in single cells share a similar computational model that’s just programmed in different substrates.”
Discoveries and new insights like these are major portions of big jigsaw puzzles of the evolutionary forces that shape all life forms on earth and possibly elsewhere.