London: Scientists have found a way to “switch” the structure of DNA using copper salts and an agent commonly found in shampoo and other household products that can pave the way for building cheap computers in the near future.
In the field of nanotechnology, it is known that the structure of a piece of DNA could be changed using acid which causes it to fold up into what is known as an “i-motif”.
Researchers from University of East Anglia used copper salts and EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) to achieve the new structure.
“Our research shows how the structure of our genetic material – DNA – can be changed and used in a way we did not realise,” said lead researcher Zoe Waller.
The structure can be switched a second time into a hair-pin structure using positively-charged copper (copper cations). This change can also be reversed using EDTA.
“A single switch was possible before – but we show for the first time how the structure can be switched twice,” Waller added.
In nanotechnology, DNA is used to make tiny machines and in DNA-based computing, computers are built from DNA rather than silicon.
The structure can also be used for detecting the presence of copper cations, which are highly toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms, in water.
A potential application of this finding could be to create logic gates for DNA based computing.
Logic gates are an elementary building block of digital circuits – used in computers and other electronic equipment.
They are traditionally made using diodes or transistors which act as electronic switches.
“This research expands how DNA could be used as a switching mechanism for a logic gate in DNA-based computing or in nano-technology,” the authors noted in the journal Chemical Communications.

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