“It has been established that charge transport is possible in DNA, but for a useful device, one wants to be able to turn the charge transport on and off. We achieved this goal by chemically modifying DNA,” said Tao, who directs the Biodesign Center for Bioelectronics and Biosensors and is a professor in the Fulton Schools of Engineering. “Not only that, but we can also adapt the modified DNA as a probe to measure reactions at the single-molecule level. This provides a unique way for studying important reactions implicated in disease, or photosynthesis reactions for novel renewable energy applications.”
Engineers often think of electricity like water, and the research team’s new DNA switch acts to control the flow of electrons on and off, just like water coming out of a faucet.
Previously, Tao’s research group had made several discoveries to understand and manipulate DNA to more finely tune the flow of electricity through it. They found they could make DNA behave in different ways—and could cajole electrons to flow like waves according to quantum mechanics, or “hop” like rabbits in the way electricity in a copper wire works —creating an exciting new avenue for DNA-based, nano-electronic applications.