computer chip, computer circuit

IBM Seeking to Develop Microchips Using “DNA Origami”

August 20, 2009 07:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
IBM scientists have developed a technique that moves them closer to being able to create microchips using self-assembled DNA nanostructures as scaffolding in the arrangement of chip components.

Scientists Create “Sticky” Sports for DNA Nanostructures

IBM is developing a method to produce microchips using “DNA origami,” a term describing nanoscale shapes and patterns self-assembled from DNA. These DNA nanostructures would serve as a sort of scaffolding in the arrangement of nanotubes and other components, allowing the company to develop microchips that are smaller and much less expensive to produce, according to the BBC.

Our goal is to use these structures as bread boards on which to assemble carbon nanotubes, silicon nanowires, quantum dots,” said Greg Wallraff, a scientist with IBM, according to Michael Kanellos of CNET News. “What we are really making are tiny DNA circuit boards that will be used to assemble other components.”

A study conducted by IBM’s Almaden Research Center and the California Institute of Technology, described in a report in the Aug. 16 issue of Nature Nanotechnology, appears to have solved one of the major obstacles in creating microchips using DNA origami.

DNA origami structures are made in solution, and they tend to stick randomly to surfaces, explains Nanowerk. But the researchers have created a process that creates “sticky” spots for origami structures that allow them to keep their intended shape.

“So not only can we put origami where we want them, but they can be oriented in the direction we want them,” said Paul W. K. Rothemund, a research associate at the California Institute of Technology, who developed DNA origami in 2006.

Still, Rothemund told Nanowerk, there are many problems to be solved and it will be another five to 10 years before origami is being used to create chips. “But the solution to the current problem came much faster than expected,” he added.

Background: DNA nanotechnology

Rothemund developed DNA origami by taking a long strand of viral DNA (though he notes that the strand does not have to be viral), putting into a 2 or 3-D shape, and holding it together with shorter strands of DNA. He was able to create shapes such as triangles, stars and smiley faces, according to his Caltech Web site.

He writes, “We hope to use the technique of DNA origami (as well as many other techniques of DNA nanotechnology) to build smaller, faster computers and many other devices.”

His breakthrough was featured in the March 2006 issue of Nature, which is available on his Web site along with two supplemental files.

In another recent breakthrough in the field of structural DNA nanotechnology, Arizona State researchers announced in February 2008 that they had created the first gene detection platform made entirely from self-assembled DNA nanostructures, what they called “one of the first practical applications of a powerful technology.”

“[T]he potential of structural DNA nanotechnology in biological applications has been underestimated,” said Hao Yan, one of the researchers. “And if we look at the process of DNA self-assembly, you will be amazed that trillions of DNA nanostructures can form simultaneously in a solution of few microliters.”

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