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"In WWII, they had a saying that there are no atheists in foxholes. I think the modern equivalent of that is that there are no jaded, bored people in the high-tech industry, in the land of really good hardcore geeks."
- Neal Stephenson

Intellectual Cell  
  A smart lymphocyte; a cell with enhanced capacity for memory, understanding and communication.  

Vergil Ullam was an unrecognized and unrewarded genius who spent a lot more of his time in the lab working on his pet projects than on his nominal work assignments. Fascinated by the potential of biological computing, he decided to give his own cells a boost up the evolutionary ladder. Eventually, they talked with each other, forming tiny communities that stretched across his body.

His first E. coli mutations had had the learning capacity of planarian worms; he had run them through simple T-mazes, giving sugar rewards. They had soon outperformed planaria...

Removing the finest biologic sequences from the altered E. coli, he had incorporated them into B-lymphocytes, white cells from his own blood...Using artificial proteins and hormones as a means of communication, Vergil had "trained" the lymphocytes in the past six months to interact as much as possible with each other and with their environment - a much more complex miniature glass maze.

Every lymphocyte in the sample he was watching had the potential intellectual capacity of a rhesus monkey...

They were beautiful. They were his children, drawn from his own blood, carefully nurtured, operated upon; he had personally injected the biologic material into at least a thousand of them. And now they wre busily transforming all their companions, and so on, and so on...

From Blood Music, by Greg Bear.
Published by Arbor House in 1984
Additional resources -

If you are interested in this area, take a look at a fascinating 1996 talk by Seymour Cray, who created the first supercomputer. Here is a short excerpt from his talk, given at the Shannon Institute for Advanced Studies.

"For the overview, when we look in the cell, the first thing we see is a big DRAM memory in the nucleus. It's called DNA. Then we look around the cell, and we see there are several thousand microprocessors. They are called mitochondria. And if we look further at how they work, they all share a common memory and they have two levels of cache. Now, you may not believe all this, but wait till we get into the details.

Let's look first at the big DRAM memory. Well, it's packaged in 48 bags. These are called chromosomes. Now, as we look at those we are a little puzzled because there are some little ones and some big ones and some middle-sized ones, and how did that happen?

Well, when you think about it, this computing facility started with a very small memory, and it's been upgraded a number of times, and you know when you go to the store you'd like to get the biggest DRAM parts, but you have to go with what's available. And that's what happened with the biological system. It had to go with what was available at the time it was upgraded.

If we look further into the big DRAM memory, we see that probably the packaging isn't important. Forty-eight banks probably aren't significant. We can view the whole memory as one string of bits, a one-dimensional memory. And biologists, I think, agree with that today. And so how big is it? Well, it's six gigabytes."

An Imaginary Tour of a Biological Computer (Why Computer Professionals and Molecular Biologists Should Start Collaborating)

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Blood Music
  More Ideas and Technology by Greg Bear
  Tech news articles related to Blood Music
  Tech news articles related to works by Greg Bear

Intellectual Cell-related news articles:
  - Humans Teach Bacteria New Language
  - Biomolecular Computer: The Tiniest Doc?
  - Bacillus Loquacious: AI-2 and the Talkative Bacterium
  - Biocomputers (Biological Computers) Come Closer
  - Bacterial Art - Culture In A Dish
  - Morgellons Disease Has Science-Fictional Effects
  - Bacteria Talk To Each Other On Bassler Video
  - Bacterial 'Computer' Solves Math Problem
  - Slime Mold Network Engineering
  - First DNA-based Artificial Neural Network
  - Can Gut Bacteria Make You Smarter?

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