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The double-helix property of DNA allows engineers to apply the molecule to electric circuts and logic chips.  (Source: www.csb.yale.edu)

A close up of the waffle-like structure.  (Source: EurekAlert!)
DNA might serve as the backbone of the next generation logic chips

The double-helix characteristic of DNA may soon start to serve a new purpose other than carrying all of an individual's genetic information. Chris Dwyer, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering, revealed that by mixing customized parts of DNA, along with other molecules, he could manufacture identical structures mimicking those of waffles. Not only could he produce one nanostructure, but billions of them, inexpensively and quickly.

Instead of silicon chips at the center of a platform for electric circuits, DNA will be used. The customized parts of DNA can be synthesized by putting pairs in any order-a very cheap process. 

"It's like taking pieces of a puzzle, throwing them in a box and as you shake the box, the pieces gradually find their neighbors to form the puzzle. What we did was to take billions of these puzzle pieces, throwing them together, to form billions of copies of the same puzzle," Dwyer said.

Different light sensitive molecules are added to the nanostructures, after  they efficiently assembled themselves. Chromophores, or light, can excite the programmable waffles (made up of the synthesized DNA). "When light is shined on the chromophores, they absorb it, exciting the electrons," Dwyer says. This energy then travels to a different type of chromophore located nearby that emits a light of a specific wavelength. The output light, through a detector, can easily be differentiated from the input light. The light can stimulate responses between yes and no, or zeros and ones, much faster than conventional circuits.

Dwyer's current experiments included sixteen waffle pieces with the chromophores on top of the waffle's ridges. By building larger waffles, complex circuits can be formed. Dwyer said the possibilities are limitless, ranging from biomedical applications to computational.

The new study, published in the online journal Small, offers a new idea that can be translated in many applications-such as medical research. Dwyer explained that the nanostructures could respond to different proteins in the blood, like disease markers. The most promising aspect of the new technology, some might say, is the ease at which scientists can create such chips or circuits, making them cheaper.





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