Biology is inspiring several exciting breakthroughs in electronics. We recently reported that Columbia University engineers developed a chip that is powered by ATP, the molecule that is responsible for energy in all living cells. Now, a different group of researchers have demonstrated that DNA—the building blocks life—could be used to build a future generation of computing. Although DNA is best known for carrying genetic information, it has also recently emerged as a promising material for nanotechnology because of its unique electronic and self-assembly properties.
A team at the University of California, Davis and the University of Washington described their DNA discovery in Nature Communications. They were able to control and reverse DNA’s conductance by changing the structure of the DNA double helix by modifying its chemical environment. In this way, they controlled the conductance of DNA and proved that it is capable of operating as an electromechanical switch.
Although the experiment is currently only a proof-of-concept, the discovery could lead to DNA-based nanoscale computing. If researchers can overcome additional challenges and eventually use DNA for computing, it would help solve problems of device efficiency and fabrication costs associated with modern electronics, which have gotten smaller every year. Fabricating today’s miniature electronics is difficult and expensive, but DNA-based devices could be created using self-assembly techniques, such as “DNA origami,” which involves folding DNA to create two- and three- dimensional shapes. The researchers say that DNA could also be used to improve the efficiency of electronic devices. “There’s no reason that computation must be done with traditional transistors. Early computers were fully mechanical and later worked on relays and vacuum tubes,” said researcher Josh Hihath “Moving to an electromechanical platform may eventually allow us to improve the energy efficiency of electronic devices at the nanoscale.”
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