New research published this week in the journal Nature Biotechnology significantly advances efforts to create tiny biological computers that one day will serve as “molecular doctors” capable of monitoring health at the cellular level.

“Each human cell already has all of the tools required to build these biocomputers on its own,” says Harvard’s Yaakov “Kobi” Benenson, a Bauer Fellow in Harvard’s Center for Systems Biology. “All that must be provided is a genetic blueprint of the machine and our own biology will do the rest. Your cells will literally build these biocomputers for you.”

Ron Weiss, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Princeton, is one of the authors on the paper and a pioneer in the field of synthetic biology, which uses bits of DNA to manufacture such futuristic biocomputers.

At a recent invitation-only forum on health information, genomics and ethics at Princeton, Weiss talked about the future of biocomputers — as sentries roaming the body on the lookout for tumor cells, for example — and their potential for revolutionizing medicine.

You can read more here about the work by Benenson, Weiss, Princeton graduate student Sairam Subramanian and others. Other recent publications by Weiss, including a Scientific American article he coauthored last year on synthetic biology, can be found on this website.

Image: Yaakov “Kobi” Benenson, Harvard University