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Researchers build DNA motor that may lead to faster computer chips
MURRAY HILL, New Jersey (CNN) -- Researchers from Bell Labs and the University of Oxford have built a microscopic DNA machine resembling a pair of motorized tweezers -- using DNA from salmon sperm in a procedure the scientists say may one day help them build computers that are 1,000 times faster than today's models.
DNA is the genetic material contained in all living things -- a double-stranded, ladder-like molecule that twists on itself like a spiral staircase.
"DNA provides the blueprints for all living cells, and we took advantage of how pieces of DNA -- with its billions of possible variations -- can precisely match up with each other to form complete DNA molecules," said Bell Labs physicist Bernard Yurke.
There is no signifcance to the the fact that salmon sperm DNA was used to build the motor. Salmon sperm DNA is routinely used in genetics labs around the world, as it is inexpensive and readily available from biochemical supply stores. The motor could have been contructed from DNA extracted from other sources.
To open them, the researchers use another single-stranded piece of DNA called the "remover" strand that interacts with the fuel molecule and pulls it away from the motor.
"The DNA motors can be repeatedly closed and opened by successively adding fuel and removal strands to the solution," said Andrew Turberfield, a physicist at the University of Oxford.
Because the operation of the motor is based on naturally occurring chemical reactions, the motor is self-assembling. The scientists just put the components together in a test tube. The entire structure is 100,000 times smaller than the head of a pin.
One day, the techniques used to build this motor could be used assemble nanocircuits using DNA tagged with silicon or other conductors.
"This may lead to a test-tube based nanofabrication technology that assembles complex structures, such as electronic circuits, through the orderly addition of molecules," Yurke said.
The scientists say any practical applications of this DNA motor are at least 10 to 20 years away.
The research is published in this week's edition of the British journal Nature.
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