The future of electronics could be silver nanowire e-DNA

7 Dec 2016

Silver DNA strand. Image: dencg/Shutterstock

As electronics are pushed to their current physical limits, a team of Russian and Israeli researchers are turning to nature to create nanowires from DNA molecules and silver nanoparticles.

While there remains some debate over whether Moore’s Law is well and truly dead or not, there is an understanding among electronics manufacturers that we are reaching a point of limitation in reducing the physical size of semiconductors.

Whether it be the manufacture of smaller and smaller sensors as part of the internet of things (IoT), or consumer device brands trying to cram as much tech as possible into their device, the demand for more minute electronics continues.

One effort to create molecular-level electronics is being investigated by a team of Russian and Israeli researchers.

Publishing their findings in the journal Advanced Materials, the team from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) has proposed a way of metallising DNA molecules using nanoparticles of silver.

Due to the unique structure of DNA, its capacity for self-assembly makes it a very convenient molecule for manufacturing nanowires contained within a single molecule.

Such a nanowire – referred to by the researchers as ‘e-DNA’ – would measure just 1.1 nanometres high and about 400 nanometres long and exhibit superconducting properties when placed between two superconductors.


An illustration showing GC-DNA before (left) and after (right) metallisation. Image: MIPT

New generation of electronic circuits

Yet despite this enormous potential, the researchers admit that in its current state of development the conductivity of DNA happens to be very low under some circumstances.

“We found that a DNA molecule composed of guanine–cytosine pairs (GC-DNA) can interact with silver nanoparticles by ‘capturing’ the atoms of the metal,” said Dmitry Klinov of MIPT.

“As silver atoms are introduced into the DNA, the molecule undergoes metallisation.”

Looking to the future, he added: “If DNA molecules exhibited lasting electrical conductivity, we would soon be seeing a new generation of electronic circuits and electrical devices.”

One area of computing where DNA has increasingly been looked at is data storage, and Irish start-up Helixworks has already begun selling DNA data storage commercially on Amazon.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic