DNA, the molecule at the heart of life, is the most powerful and sophisticated information storage device in existence. So it’s no wonder that scientists are attempting to harness its capabilities in computing and electronics. Not only does DNA have the capacity to store vast amounts of data, but it also provides the opportunity to surpass current limitations on reducing the size of electronics.
Although we’ve drastically shrunk computers since their advent, scientists can only go so far because a minimum space between transistors-- the main building block of electronic devices-- is required to prevent interference. This means that processors can’t be designed much smaller than what we have around today.
DNA could provide us with a unique way get around this, but unfortunately, scientists have faced a considerable challenge with using it in the field of “molecular electronics,” or the use of molecules in the production of electronic components. It’s easy enough to design and fabricate DNA-based molecules, but transporting significant electrical current through them has proved arduous. Furthermore, measuring the flow of currents through synthetic DNA strands has previously always produced contradictory, and therefore unreliable, results. But now, an international team of researchers, headed by scientists at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has made a significant breakthrough that represents a giant stride in the development of DNA-based electrical circuits.
As described in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the scientists made their DNA-based wires by absorbing four DNA strands onto a mica substrate. They were then able to accurately and reproducibly measure the currents flowing through these molecules, which ranged from tens of picoamperes to over 100 pA. Furthermore, the current travelled distances greater than 100 nm.
“This research paves the way for implementing DNA-based programmable circuits for molecular electronics, which could lead to a new generation of computer circuits that can be more sophisticated, cheaper and simpler to make,” lead scientist Prof. Danny Porath said in a news-release.
While this work definitely pushes the field of molecular electronics in the right direction, there are still some significant hurdles that scientists need to overcome before functioning circuitry can be built based on these results. Although DNA is a very stable molecule, maintaining its integrity through intense processing conditions will be tricky.