Is There Nothing E. coli Cannot Do? Part Three of a Continuing Series…

By Carl Zimmer | May 21, 2008 11:27 am

Blogs are abuzz with the news that E. coli can solve classic math puzzles like the Burnt Pancake Puzzle. The paper itself is available for free here.

Judging from the Frankensteinian anxiety this news seems to be triggering, people must think that life is normally not capable of the logic that we’re familiar with in computers. In fact, however, E. coli was carrying out a natural sort of computation long before some undergrads starting tinkering with it. In Microcosm, I show how the genes that build E. coli’s flagella act like a noise filter circuit. (Here’s a new paper on the digital control in E. coli.) What’s interesting about the Burnt-Pancake E. coli is that it’s solving our problems, not its own.


Comments (4)

  1. jianying

    Bill Gates’s paper he wrote way back before he dropped out of college is on this exact topic. That paper address the computational bounds on solving the problem for a stack of N burnt pancakes. He wrote the paper with Prof. Papadimitriou, who is currently at Berkeley. Consequently Bill gates have a Erdos number of 4.

  2. Biology doing computation… it doesn’t always come up with ‘what is six times nine’. (DNA would have loved this story.)

  3. Doug

    Hi Carl,

    I enjoyed your ‘What Is a Species?’ in June 2008 Scientific American.

    What do you think of Jeff Hecht, ‘The Neanderthal correlation’, “A quetion of breeding” in Nature v543 n7149 p562 22 May 2008?


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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