By adding substances like copper and oxygen to DNA molecules, scientists have found a way to alter the double helix shape according to the Independent. This new discovery could allow scientists to build tiny computers and machines. DNA will not only be used for the construction of organic bodies, but will be able as raw materials for new technologies like nanobots to DNA-coded computers.
“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 Independent. In April, Dr. Waller’s team also discovered the “i-motif,” a type of DNA that is four-stranded and has a knot-like structure, for the first time inside living cells, though they aren’t quite sure of the function yet.
Dr. Waller’s UEA team is not looking for medical applications of non-double-helix DNA structures, but it is speculated that they could contribute to the onset of certain genetic diseases such as 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.
Dr. Waller’s team plans to use the i-motif’s function as a switch, in which both the knot and double helix DNA shapes can be recognized as “on” or “off.” These switch functions are being used for basic nanomachine applications. DNA can be shaped into this i-motif structure by adding copper salts in an oxygen-free environment. With the addition of oxygen, that structure then can be altered to form a “hairpin” shape.”
Dr. Waller says that the discovery of these new structures will be applied to the development of DNA-based computing. Microsoft has been looking into the concepts of DNA-based computing applications and using DNA as data storage for years. “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,” Dr. Waller explains. “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, referring to the idea that one application of these DNA-structures could be the construction of tiny “nanobots” that can deliver drugs to parts of the body.