I begin each workday morning by browsing through news stories, trying to figure out which ones the readers might find interesting to read on www.biosciencetechnology.com. Those of you already familiar with our Web site know that most news stories involve cancer research, or neuroscience, or infectious diseases, or really anything else involving life science research.
I don't mean to discount these stories or the important breakthroughs researchers are continually making in these areas. It’s just that I want to see something different. Something that will make me stop in my tracks and say, “wow!”
This morning, I did.
The headline that caught my attention read, "IBM Uses DNA to Make Next-gen Microchips."Definitely an attention grabbing headline, but as I read the story, the science fiction aspect disappeared. IBM isn't even using real DNA. Instead, the company is exploring the possibilities of using a technique developed at the California Institute of Technology called DNA origami to solve problems the company is finding as it tries to develop lithographic technology for sizes smaller than 22 nm.
According to IBM, DNA origami causes single DNA molecules to self assemble in solution via a reaction between a long single strand of viral DNA and a mixture of different short synthetic oligonucleotide strands. These short segments act as staples—effectively folding the viral DNA into the desired 2D shape through complementary base pair binding. The short staples can be modified to provide attachment sites for nanoscale components at resolutions (separation between sites) as small as 6 nanometers (nm). In this way, DNA nanostructures such as squares, triangles and stars can be prepared with dimensions of 100 nm to 150 nm on an edge and a thickness of the width of the DNA double helix.
IBM thinks the positioned DNA nanostructures can serve as scaffolds, or miniature circuit boards, for the precise assembly of components at dimensions smaller than possible with conventional semiconductor fabrication techniques. This could lead to the creation of functional devices that can be integrated into larger structures, as well as enabling studies of arrays of nanostructures with known coordinates. The full story was published in Nature Nanotechnology and is available at www.nature.com/nnano/journal/vaop/ncurrent/abs/nnano.2009.220.html.
While this isn't exactly an example of bioscience getting directly tied to manufacturing science, it is an example of how one branch can inspire the other. I love these kind of stories because they clearly show that bioscience researchers aren't working in a vacuum. The world is paying attention to their work. Still though, that story would've been much cooler if they used real DNA.