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Computer science breakthrough: Replicating bacterial communication

Fundamental to computer science is transmitting information using electromagnetic communication - the 0s and 1s of binary code. But nature's tiniest lifeforms have used a very different method for eons, and figuring out how they do it could revolutionize computers.

Bacteria make great use of what's known as molecular communication, in which they transmit and receive molecules to share information. One example of this is quorum sensing, where bacteria send around chemical signals to figure out their local population. This form of communication had long been ignored by information science, and it's only recently that the amount of information that can possibly be relayed using this method has been seriously considered.

Scientists at the University of Illinois have tackled this problem with a thought experiment. A transmitter sits in a fluid, replicating the conditions in which bacteria communicate. The transmitter emits a series of identical molecules, with the information encoded by the amount of time that elapses between each molecule released. In theory, that could be a fairly powerful form of communication, but the fact that the transmission is in a fluid introduces one hell of a randomizer: Brownian motion.
 
 

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