London :In a first, scientists have found a way to ‘switch’ the structure of DNA using copper salts and an agent commonly found in shampoo, an advance that could pave the way for computers build from DNA, rather than silicon.
It was previously known that the structure of a piece of DNA could be changed using acid, which causes it to fold up into what is known as an ‘i-motif’.
The researchers showed that the structure can be switched a second time into a hair-pin structure using positively-charged copper (copper cations).
This change can also be reversed using Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA)- an agent commonly found in shampoo and other household products.
The applications for this discovery include nanotechnology – where DNA is used to make tiny machines, and in DNA-based computing – where computers are built from DNA rather than silicon, researchers said.
It could also be used for detecting the presence of copper cations, which are highly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, in water.
“Our research shows how the structure of our genetic material – DNA – can be changed and used in a way we didn’t realise,” said lead researcher Zoe Waller, from University of East Anglia ‘s school of Pharmacy.
“A single switch was possible before – but we show for the first time how the structure can be switched twice,” Waller said.
“A potential application of this finding could be to create logic gates for DNA based computing. Logic gates are an elementary building block of digital circuits – used in computers and other electronic equipment,” Waller said.
“They are traditionally made using diodes or transistors which act as electronic switches,” Waller said.
“This research expands how DNA could be used as a switching mechanism for a logic gate in DNA-based computing or in nano-technology,” Waller said.
The study was published in the journal Chemical Communications.