DNA – The Next Duct Tape!

Everyone knows there are a million uses for duct tape. But did you know that DNA does a lot more than just store our genetic blueprints? Yeah, it turns out that the structure of DNA can be used for all kinds of things, from forensic evidence to nanotubes (just look at Wikipedia’s DNA article). Now DNA has a whole new use: optic cables.

A team of Swedish scientists has come up with a new technique that allows DNA strands to be converted to microscopic fiber optic cables. The wires literally build themselves – using the nature of DNA’s structure to create helices – from a mix of DNA and molecules called chromophores that can absorb and pass on light. The team used single type of chromophore called YO because has a strong affinity for DNA molecules and readily wedges itself between the connections between bases that make up a DNA strand (think the “rungs” of the DNA “ladder”.

The result is strands of DNA with YO chromophores along their length, transforming the strands into wires a few nanometres in diameter and 20 nanometres long. These aren’t entirely unlike natural ‘wires’ found inside organisms like algae, where they are used to transport photons to parts of a cell for photosynthesis.

The reason this is so cool is that small-scale optic wires are extremely useful. They can be used in optical microchips which use light instead of electricity or in artificial photosynthesis systems that could replace today’s solar panels.

Currently, the wires transmit about 30% of the light given to them successfully. This is about equal to chemically constructed wires which are much harder to make. This ‘easy bake’ wire is a lot easier to create – although, the results can vary.

Overall, the new technology shows us that DNA is eternally useful. We can use it to catch criminals, eat healthier, create nanotubes and now make fiber optic cables – not to mention the whole storing our entire genome thing. Soon enough we’ll make all kinds of things with it – Is there anything DNA can’t do?

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