DNA’s hidden talents: From Diodes to Data Storage

Your DNA controls the structure of your whole body, how it works, and even who you are. It stores an immense amount of data, and it turns out that’s not all it can do.

DNA Strands

Scientists from the Universities of Negev and Georgia have created a diode, an electronic component which allows current to flow in one direction, but stops it in the other, from DNA. It is only 11 base pairs long, and about 4 nm in length. What makes it so special is the strategic addition of a small molecule called coralyne along the chain. This tiny molecule breaks the symmetry of the DNA, allowing it to conduct electricity in one direction.

No diode is perfect, so they are categorised by the ratio of the forward to backward current. When the DNA diode was connected to a circuit nanometres long, it allowed a current 15 times larger in its forward direction than backwards when a voltage of 1.1 V was applied, which makes it useable. It is, however, still inferior to other, larger single molecule diodes, which can allow up to 250 times more forward current than backward.

With computer chips currently approaching the physical limits of silicon, this tiny diode could help in getting them even smaller, and could even shrink some electronic systems to a molecular level.

And that’s not all DNA can do. Scientists from the University of Washington and Microsoft have found a way to encode data from images onto it. They managed to convert the data from four images from binary storage to a sequence of base pairs, and retrieve them without losing any data.

Data stored on DNA could last for thousands of years in a minuscule amount of space by dehydrating the DNA between storing and retrieving the data. The information currently stored in centres the size of large supermarkets could be reduced to the size of a sugar cube!



C. Guo, K. Wang, E. Zerah-Harush, J. Hamill, B. Wang, Y. Dubi, B. Xu, Nature Chemistry, 4th February 2016, http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nchem.2480.html (accessed 08/04/2016)

Jamie Condliffe, Gizmodo, 5th April 2016, The World’s Smallest Diode is Made of DNA, http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2016/04/the-worlds-smallest-diode-is-made-of-dna/ (accessed 08/04/2016)

Science Daily, 4th April 2016, World’s Smallest Diode Created, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160404133921.htm (accessed 08/04/2016)

Alexander McNamara, Science Focus, 8th April 2016, DNA used to store digital images and retrieve them perfectly, http://www.sciencefocus.com/article/future/dna-used-to-store-digital-images-and-retrieve-them-perfectly (accessed 08/04/2016)

J. Bornholt, R. Lopex, D. M. Carmean, L. Ceze, G. Seelig, K. Strauss, Microsoft Research, https://homes.cs.washington.edu/~luisceze/publications/dnastorage-asplos16.pdf (accessed 08/04/2016)

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