Washington, Feb 6 : Scientists at Texas A and M University have developed a simple and cheaper method to develop nanowires that can create tiny computers and medical devices by using DNA.
Stirring of DNA into a chemical solution and exposing it to ultraviolet light will form these nanowires.
"The process is very simple stuff. Basically you put the solution and DNA into a beaker, stir it around, and expose it to light," Discovery quoted Hong Liang of Texas A and M University, one of the authors of the paper.
It is well known that DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, contains the blueprints for all life. It was used by the Texas researchers to work as scaffold, to which other molecules could bind to.
As DNA is naturally programmed to form long chains, the investigators started out by creating wires, but also tried making other shapes from the solution as well.
DNA was mixed with a cadmium (metal) solution and this solution was stirred before exposing it to UV light.
"The UV light triggers a reaction, and the cadmium looks around for something to attach to. They find the DNA and grab it," said Liang.
It was possible for the researchers to control the thickness of the wire by controlling the concentration of the solution. These wires are formed along the length of the DNA molecule, thereby enabling to cut the DNA in wires of different lengths.
It is common knowledge for any beachgoer that UV light can degrade DNA, and may also cause problems like cancer. So, in order to avert any damage to their DNA solution, the researchers used low-intensity UV light, much less intense levels that damage DNA.
This reaction does not require any elaborate set-up: it doesn't use or produce any toxic chemicals and takes place at room temperature and room pressure. The wires are able to retain their properties for three months.
This research may be used as a new way to see inside the body using either X-rays or other imaging techniques: It might be possible to inject the metal-coated DNA into the blood stream, which can congregate in tumors or damaged areas. As the molecules are made of electrically conductive metal, they would show up in an X-ray or other electromagnetic diagnostic scan.
Tiny circuit boards and computers or anything that uses electricity could also be created by using this technique. According to Sri Sridhar, a professor of physics at Northeastern University, researchers are borrowing tricks from Mother Nature.
"It's a very hot thing right now. While DNA is the basis of life, we are not using those properties," he said. Instead, researchers are "taking the tricks that evolution developed as a basis for a new type of electronics that is DNA-based," said Sridhar.
The study appears in the current issue of Advanced Materials.