Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Brown Engineers Use DNA to Direct Nanowire Assembly and Growth

A small but growing number of engineers are using nature’s engineer – DNA – to create nanomaterials that can be used in everything from medical devices to computer circuits. A team from Brown University and Boston College is the first to use DNA to direct construction and growth of complex nanowires. Their work appears in Nanotechnology.

A research team led by Brown University engineers has harnessed the coding power of DNA to create zinc oxide nanowires on top of carbon nanotube tips. The feat, detailed in the journal Nanotechnology, marks the first time that DNA has been used to direct the assembly and growth of complex nanowires.

“If you want to make something, turn to Mother Nature” Engineers in the lab of Jimmy Xu used DNA to grow zinc oxide nanowires like this one on the tips of carbon nanotubes. The zinc oxide wires created in the lab measured between 100 and 200 nanometers long. Image: The Xu Laboratory

The tiny new structures can create and detect light and, with mechanical pressure, generate electricity. The wires’ optical and electrical properties would allow for a range of applications, from medical diagnostics and security sensors to fiber optical networks and computer circuits.

“The use of DNA to assemble nanomaterials is one of the first steps toward using biological molecules as a manufacturing tool,” said Adam Lazareck, a graduate student in Brown’s Division of Engineering. “If you want to make something, turn to Mother Nature. From skin to sea shells, remarkable structures are engineered using DNA.”

Lazareck, who works in the laboratory Jimmy Xu, professor of engineering and physics, led the research. The work is an example of “bottom up” nanoengineering. Instead of molding or etching materials into smaller components, such as computer circuits, engineers are experimenting with ways to get biological molecules to do their own assembly work. Under the right chemical conditions, molecular design and machinery – such as light-sensing proteins or viral motors – can be used to create miniscule devices and materials.

In this work, the team of engineers and scientists took the “bottom-up” approach one step further by successfully harnessing DNA to provide instructions for this self-assembly. The new structures created in the Xu lab are the first example of DNA-directed self-assembly and synthesis in nanomaterials.

The Xu lab is the first in the world to make uniform arrays of carbon nanotubes. Lazareck and his collaborators at Brown and Boston College built on this platform to make their structures. They started with arrays of billions of carbon nanotubes of the same diameter and height evenly spaced on a base of aluminum oxide film. On the tips of the tubes, they introduced a tiny DNA snippet.

This synthetic snippet of DNA carries a sequence of 15 “letters” of genetic code. It was chosen because it attracts only one complement – another sequence made up of a different string of 15 “letters” of genetic code. This second sequence was coupled with a gold nanoparticle, which acted as a chemical delivery system of sorts, bringing the complementary sequences of DNA together. To make the wires, the team put the arrays in a furnace set at 600° C and added zinc arsenide. What grew: Zinc oxide wires measuring about 100-200 nanometers in length.

The team conducted control experiments – introducing gold nanoparticles into the array with no DNA attached or using nanotubes with no DNA at the tips in the nanotube array – and found that very few DNA sequences stuck. And no wires could be made. Lazareck said the key is DNA hybridization, the process of bringing single, complimentary strands of DNA together to reform the double helices that DNA is famous for.

“DNA provides an unparalleled instruction manual because it is so specific,” Lazareck said. “Strands of DNA only join together with their complements. So with this biological specificity, you get manufacturing precision. The functional materials that result have attractive properties that can be applied in many ways.”

“We’re seeing the beginning of the next generation of nanomaterials,” said Xu, senior author of the article. “Many labs are experimenting with self-assembly. And they are making beautiful, but simple, structures. What’s been missing is a way to convey information – the instruction code – to make complex materials.”

Graduate student Teng-Fang Kuo was part of the Brown team along with two former graduate students in the Xu lab – Bradford Taft at Boston College and Sylvain Cloutier at the University of Delaware. Shana Kelley, professor of chemistry at Boston College, contributed to the experiments.

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the National Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada funded the research.

Wendy Lawton | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>