Scientists Change DNA Shape To Develop Miniature Machines And Computers

Tiny machines and computers can be created by manipulating the shape of DNA, claim scientists and added that a range of new “triggers” to control this process have also been discovered.

DNA molecules can be forced to change shape by inserting elements like copper and oxygen.

Scientists are able to create tiny pieces of technology from DNA by the process of developing a range of DNA shapes which acts as the toolkit for eth scientists.

“The structure of DNA is usually assumed to be a double helix – that iconic structure that was first proposed by Watson and Crick in 1953 – but DNA is able to change structure,” Dr Zoe Waller from the University of East Anglia (UEA) told the media.

Dr Waller’s team work on a particular structure called the “i-motif”, a four-stranded, knot-like structure that was identified in living cells for the first time in April.

The researcher from the UAE are right now not looking to develop any medical application from the development even though substitute DNA structures are believed to be the cause for the origin of certain genetic diseases like diabetes and cancer.

“We know these structures do play a role in gene expression, but that was not the role of this study – DNA can be used as a material in making things,” she explained.

There can be a variety of technological applications by the use of DNA as a construction material such as nanobots and computers coded with DNA.

When it is paired with regular DNA, the i-motif can be used as a switch because its structure is so different.

The work by Dr Waller and her team has helped to increase the range of switches which may be used in settings such as those applied in basic nanomachine applications.

An i-motif shape of the DNA molecules can be achieved by the addition of copper salts to the DNA in oxygen-free conditions, the researchers found. Addition of oxygen to the mix can result in a further modification into another shape called a “hairpin”.

“One of the direct applications is in DNA-based computing,” explained Dr Waller.

Companies like Microsoft have explored the possible use of DNA for data storage and therefore the idea of DNA computing has bene around for years now.

“You can use DNA to make logic gates and one of the advantages in using DNA is computing is that you can carry out calculations in parallel if your different types of logic gates are represented by different triggers or ingredients,” said Dr Waller.

“So the fact we have discovered separate triggers for the same type of DNA means you could increase the output you could actually use.”

“DNA is biocompatible, so if you make a nanomachine out of DNA you can introduce it to a cell and it doesn’t get destroyed or recognised as quickly as some other agents we introduce,” said Dr Waller.

(Adapted from


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