ERCIM News No.43 - October 2000 [contents]

Molecular Computing Research at Leiden Center for Natural Computing

by Grzegorz Rozenberg

Molecular computing is an exciting and fast growing research area. It is concerned with the use of (bio)molecules and biochemical processes for the purpose of computing. Although it is centered around computer science, molecular computing is a very interdisciplinary area with researchers from computer science, mathematics, molecular biology, crystallo-graphy, biochemistry, physics, etc participating in it.

Molecular computing has the potential to resolve two well recognized obstacles of silicon based computer technology: miniaturization and massive parallelism. Through molecular computing one ‘descends’ to the nano-scale computing which solves the miniaturization problem. Since, eg, a single drop of solution can contain trillions of DNA molecules, and when an operations is performed on a tube containing DNA molecules then it is performed on every molecule in the tube, massive parallellism is obtained on a grand scale.

DNA computing (the area of molecular computing where one considers DNA molecules) offers a number of other features which make it an attractive alternative (or supplementary) technology to modern silicon computing. These features include very impressive energy efficiency and information density.

One may say that the main thrust of the current research in molecular computing is the assessment of its full potential. The results obtained to date are cautiously optimistic. In particular, the conceptual understanding and experimental testing of basic principles achieved is already quite impressive.

The research on molecular computing at Leiden University takes place at the Leiden Center for Natural Computing (LCNC), an interdepartmental institute of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. Molecular Computing is one of the main research programs of LCNC and it is multidisciplinary, with three participating groups: Leiden Institute for Advanced Computer Science (Prof. G. Rozenberg), Institute of Molecular Plant Biology (Prof. H. Spaink), and Department of Biophysics (Prof. T. Schmidt). The research on molecular computing also involves the Evolutionary Algorithms research program of LCNC (Prof. J. Kok and Prof. T. Baeck).

The two main research lines on molecular computing within LCNC are:

(1) models and paradigms for molecular computing where the following theoretical topics are currently under investigation:

(2) design of laboratory experiments testing models for molecular computing. Current laboratory experiments include:

In our research, both theoretical and experimental, we cooperate with a number of research centers around the world - in particular with: University of Colorado at Boulder (USA), Princeton University (USA), California Institute of Technology (USA), State University of New York at Binghamton (USA), Turku Center for Computer Science (Finland), Romanian Academy (Romania) and Waseda University (Japan).

Here at LCNC we feel that the interdisciplinary research on molecular computing has significantly deepened our understanding of computation taking place all around us: in computer science, biology, physics, etc. We certainly look forward to many years of exciting and challenging research.

Leiden Center for Natural Computing: http://www.wi.leidenuniv.nl/~lcnc/
Grzegorz Rozenberg’s homepage: http://www.liacs.nl/~rozenber

Please contact:
Grzegorz Rozenberg – Leiden Center for Natural Computing, Leiden University
Tel: +31 71 527 70 61/67
E-mail: rozenber@liacs.nl