Finding new applications for low-energy high-efficiency organic mechanisms

Envisaging the integration of information science and biology from the standpoint of DNA research

Hiraoka, Yasushi

Graduate School of Frontier Biosciences
Nuclear Dynamics Group

Hiraoka, Yasushi

As he investigates genetic functions, Professor Hiraoka is looking forward to finding new research partners through interdisciplinary work with robotics.
He also foresees “the possibility of creating a new computing system that takes hints from the mechanisms of genetic information transmission.”

Exploring unknown genetic functions

Living things access and use genetic information contained in DNA as it becomes necessary to do so. There are many types of genes that have no clear function, leading us to question why they are there at all. Others are unnecessary most of the time, but become essential under certain conditions. These are what we could call “standby” genes. My research involves exposing these genes to various kinds of stress and identifying the as-yet undiscovered roles that they play, one by one.

It is my hope that interdisciplinary research with colleagues in information science will help us discover new approaches to researching organisms. I am also extremely interested in interaction with the field of robotics. I think that the study of organisms’ reactions and memories is connected to robotics through the field of cognitive science.

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 Similarity between organisms and computers

In a way, transmitting genetic information in organisms is similar to controlling a computer. In both cases, information is recorded in a linear sequence. Organisms use the four bases A, G, C, and T, while computers use the two signals 0 and 1. Both systems are linear codes used to create “words.” This similarity prompted us to consider whether the information transmission mechanisms in cells could be used in information science, and led to the idea of a DNA computer.

Organisms are undaunted by “noise”

Inside the computer-controlled microscope chamber, where living cells are observed at a constant temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. It was Professor Hiraoka who first introduced this system in Japan.

Inside the computer-controlled microscope chamber, where living cells are observed at a constant temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. It was Professor Hiraoka who first introduced this system in Japan.

Computers comprehend ambiguities in real-world situations as exceptions, and process them unilaterally as either 0 or 1. Cells, however, are capable of transcending this linear approach to information. Organisms treat ambiguity as a natural part of existence. They actually use ambiguous situations, which we could also call “noise,” as an energy source. They have highly efficient systems to harness this low-energy noise for various levels of activity.

I find it fascinating that cellular information transmission can make such skillful use of the same type of indeterminate information that computers find so difficult to deal with. I believe that in-depth study of these mechanisms will yield useful hints for the next generation of computerized information processing.