Which came first, the chicken or the egg? At least we know the answer for the "biochips" being developed by Tokyo's Oki Electric Industry Co.: the egg.
In the quest for "smarter" computer chips, many researchers around the world are trying to build ultratiny transistors from biological materials. Some scientists believe that the combination of molecule-size transistors made with biological substances may be technology's best shot at mimicking the brain's thinking processes.
At Oki's Bioelectronic Research Lab, scientists are working to replace silicon with avidin, a substance found in egg whites. They "print" a circuit pattern on the avidin by shining infrared light through a negative, or mask. Then the latent image is developed with biotin, a vitamin, which attaches to the avidin that wasn't hit by the infrared light. By the late 1990s, Oki expects to produce biotransistors as tiny as 0.02 microns, or less than the size of today's best 0.5-micron switches.