Living computers solve complex math puzzle
Tweaked bacteria show promise in problem-solving applications

Scientists have genetically tweaked E. coli bacteria to create simple computers capable of solving a classic math puzzle, commonly called the “Burnt Pancake Problem.”

The resulting advance in synthetic biology, according to researchers, hints at the ability of tiny “living computers” to aid in data storage, evolutionary comparisons and even tissue engineering.

The mathematical problem imagines pancakes of varying sizes stacked in random order — each with a burnt side and a golden brown side. The solution requires using the minimum number of manipulations to stack the pancakes according to size, with their burnt sides all facedown. Each manipulation involves flipping one or more pancakes, reversing both their order and orientation.