A relatively common idea in science fiction is that of melding man and machine to give humans super strength, intelligence, and more. Typically this is achieved through implants of one kind or another, but in reality the distinction between the organic and technological may not be so discernible. Researchers at MIT have successfully blurred that line by creating cells with the ability to perform logical computations and remember the results.
In some ways, the comparison between cells and computers can be easily made as signals within a cell can trigger a process to create or modify other signals. In fact cells have already been manipulated to perform computations, but these cells often fail to remember the results of their work and return to a neutral state once the stimulus is gone. The MIT cells however permanently remember their results and even pass them on to the next 90 generations, because the results are encoded into its DNA, causing the cell to potentially produce a protein until its death. This permanent memory should prove very useful as it will allow the results of the cellular circuit to be read either by sequencing the cells' DNA or by measuring how much of the protein they produce is in the sample.
The researchers are looking at this technology for environmental sensors that activate in the presence of a specific material, and potentially stem cell medicine. Cellular circuits could be used to influence the development of stem cells into other, specific kinds of cells.