As we reach the limits of what computer processors can do, "biologists are testing a new way to efficiently sift through mountains of genomic data: lasers," said Jamie Condliffe at Technology Review. The U.K.-based startup Optalysys has begun experimenting with a processor that "encodes data onto light beams that can be made to interfere with each other." That allows the processor to spot identical sets of data or perform calculations in "one shot," rather than over many stages, as a regular computer would do.

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Performing those calculations with lasers can be "10 times quicker and uses a quarter as much energy." Recently, genomic researchers at universities in the U.S. and U.K. began using Optalysys processors to locate short snippets of DNA inside genomes, a process likened to rapidly finding "a needle in a haystack."