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DNA Nanowires Coated with Gold Might Allow Bio-Computers

Can computers be made of cells? That’s what scientists in Germany (Bezu Teschome and Artur Erbe of Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf) look to discover with work published in the journal Langmuir.

The want to know if their way of coating DNA-based nanowires in gold can conduct electricity. The proof-of-concept wires might allow DNA circuits and genetic computers to self-assemble through molecule growth.

“The main advantage here is the complexity you can create on the nanoscale with these circuits,” Erbe told Seeker.

The scientists use molecules to attach gold nanoparticles and gold ions along the DNA nanotube. Gold goes well with organic molecules like DNA. So, the scientists coated the nanowire in gold.

“Since the single building block, a single strand of DNA, is rather small, you can imagine that you could work your way down to dimensions to the single molecule regime,” said Erbe. “It’s difficult to imagine any top-down, lithographic strategy to go into that regime.”

as unimaginably small, just 30 nanometers long. For comparison, a red blood cell is about 7,000 nm across; an Ebola virus is about 1,500 nm long and 50 nm wide.

Next, the scientists used special molecules to attach gold nanoparticles and gold ions along the DNA nanotube. This wasn’t too much of a headache since gold plays well with organic molecules like DNA. But after the scientists coated the nanowire in gold, they still had another hurdle.

“The main challenge with this was to connect it with the outside electrodes,” Teschome said.

Making a connection from the nanoworld to the regular-sized world was critical in order to test whether the tiny wire was conducting electrons.

The scientists used a high-precision microscope to image the nanowires and then used another technique to mark where the ends of nanowires were. Next, they placed electrodes, with tips that just tens of nanometers across, on the wires. Although the tips of these electrodes are quite small, they fatten up to a micron scale, which makes them easier to handle in the regular-sized world. When the scientists tested the DNA nanowire, they confirmed it conducted electricity.

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The experiments were done at room temperatures, and the scientists noted that if the temperature fell, the charge decreased. One way to improve upon that might include adding conductive polymers between the gold particles, they reported.

But this is a first step. Tiny circuits that self-assemble from the molecule up would not only make it possible to build any shape or size computer, but it would greatly reduce the energy and required to create computers made from genetic material.

“Since the single building block, a single strand of DNA, is rather small, you can imagine that you could work your way down to dimensions to the single molecule regime,” said Erbe. “It’s difficult to imagine any top-down, lithographic strategy to go into that regime.”

The research was published this week in the journal Langmuir.

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