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The Biological Computer

Distributed computing — breaking down large computational problems into smaller pieces and distributing them across several computers — is "all the rage," says KFC at the arXiv blog. Specifically, machines connected by a network and passing large messages back and forth — a so-called "message passing model" — is how much of the distributed computing that takes place on the Internet happens, KFC says. But there are limits, for example in the size of the message the machines are capable of sending and receiving.

Biological cells are also constrained in the information they can receive and transmit. However, KFC adds, "perhaps they can make up for their individual deficiencies by working as a group and so are just as capable as other networks." In a new study posted on arXiv, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich show their model of the computing behavior of a network of finite-state machines capable of solving many standard distributed computing problems. "What's more, these networks can do the job just as efficiently — in a time that is poly-logarithmic with the number of cells," KFC says. "It provides a framework in which to study how networks of cells might solve other common problems in biological systems such as forward planning, trajectory calculations and so on. ... It is an exciting time to be a distributed computing specialist working in biology."

The Scan

Not as High as Hoped

The Associated Press says initial results from a trial of CureVac's SARS-CoV-2 vaccine suggests low effectiveness in preventing COVID-19.

Finding Freshwater DNA

A new research project plans to use eDNA sampling to analyze freshwater rivers across the world, the Guardian reports.

Rise in Payments

Kaiser Health News investigates the rise of payments made by medical device companies to surgeons that could be in violation of anti-kickback laws.

Nature Papers Present Ginkgo Biloba Genome Assembly, Collection of Polygenic Indexes, More

In Nature this week: a nearly complete Ginkgo biloba genome assembly, polygenic indexes for dozens of phenotypes, and more.