`DNA origami` paves way for faster, cheaper computer chips

Washington: A team of scientists has opened a door to faster, cheaper computer chips with the help of ‘DNA origami.’

The Brigham Young University researchers reported that DNA, the genetic material of life, might help accomplish this goal when it is formed into specific shapes through a process reminiscent of the ancient art of paper folding.

“We would like to use DNA’s very small size, base-pairing capabilities and ability to self-assemble, and direct it to make nanoscale structures that could be used for electronics,” Adam T. Woolley said.

He explained that the smallest features on chips currently produced by electronics manufacturers are 14 nanometers wide. That’s more than 10 times larger than the diameter of single-stranded DNA, meaning that this genetic material could form the basis for smaller-scale chips.

“The problem, however, is that DNA does not conduct electricity very well,” he says. “So we use the DNA as a scaffold and then assemble other materials on the DNA to form electronics.”

To design computer chips similar in function to those that Silicon Valley churns out, Woolley, in collaboration with Robert C. Davis and John N. Harb, is building on other groups’ prior work on DNA origami and DNA nanofabrication.

The most familiar form of DNA is a double helix, which consists of two single strands of DNA. Complementary bases on each strand pair up to connect the two strands, much like rungs on a twisted ladder.

Woolley noted that a conventional chip fabrication facility costs more than 1 billion dollars, in part because the equipment necessary to achieve the minuscule dimensions of chip components is expensive and because the multi-step manufacturing process requires hundreds of instruments. In contrast, a facility that harnesses DNA’s knack for self-assembly would likely entail much lower start-up funding.

“Nature works on a large scale, and it is really good at assembling things reliably and efficiently,” he said. “If that could be applied in making circuits for computers, there’s potential for huge cost savings.”

The study is presented at American Chemical Society 251st National Meeting & Exposition. (ANI)