DNA wires could lead to cheaper microchips

BYU » Researchers have been able to shape genetic material and will next try to coat the strands with metal.
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Researchers at Brigham Young University have discovered a way to use DNA to make electrical circuits that potentially could lead to cheaper microchips.

The scientists found a new way to bend DNA into the shapes they need to make circuits, coat it in metal and allow those wires to branch into other areas. It's the opposite of the method currently used by many microchip companies, which take silicon and whittle it down to microscopic size.

"What we are borrowing from nature is the great flexibility DNA has to form a wide variety of shapes," said Robert Davis, associate professor of physics and astronomy at BYU. "The DNA is also robust and can handle a wide variety of conditions."

To demonstrate the technique, the researchers created the letters BYU, which ended up being about 1/1000 the width of human hair -- and about a billion times smaller than the block Y on Provo's mountains.

"It shows that we can make complex structures with branching points. That's useful because our long-term focus is to take these DNA structures, coat them with metal so electricity can go through them and create integrated circuits," said co-author and chemistry professor Adam Woolley. "They could be parts of integrated circuits that run computers or cell phones."

The new method has the potential of decreasing the cost of microchips and making higher-performance chips. While researchers have coated straight pieces of DNA with metal, they have yet to do so with the shaped DNA. A $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation for four years of research will help scientists determine if they can make the new technique viable.

"It has the potential to be able to enable higher performance and potentially be less expensive," Woolley said. "We haven't demonstrated that yet, but it's certainly a possibility."