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June - 2010 - issue > Tech Tracker

Soon, Electronics will Run on DNA

Eureka Bharali
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Eureka Bharali
When we hear DNA, the only connotation that prompts the mind is something related to the living organisms or health concerns.
Researchers, however, are on a different track, and soon the nucleic acid strands will be connoted for complex technologies like chips as they believe that it will replace the silicon chips that generally act as substrates for logic circuits.

Chris Dwyer, Assistant Professor, electrical and computer engineering at Duke Pratt School of Engineering showed that by simply mixing customized snippets of DNA and other molecules, he could literally create billions of identical, tiny, waffle-looking structures. Thus in his words, "Just by sitting in a lab, a single graduate student will be able to produce as much of this logic circuit in a single day than all the factories around the world can produce in a month". The secret lies in using chromophores, which are basically molecules that get excited in the presence of light.

Instead of conventional circuits using electrical current to rapidly switch between zeros or ones, or to yes and no, light can be used to stimulate similar responses from the DNA-based switches - and much faster. With DNA in the scene, the whole chip making process will turn much cheaper. Unlike other tangible goods, in the semiconductor business the raw materials are essentially free. Making more chips doesn't mean spending more on raw materials.

The most expensive part of a silicon chip is the depreciation on the equipment used to make it, including the building. A semiconductor factory, or fab, is horrendously expensive to build and maintain, to the tune of $2 billion to $3 billion in construction costs, plus tens of millions per year in maintenance. According to analysts, the use of DNA will eventually help in unlimited supplies of these tiny circuits within the labs, with the cost of production reduced to one third. In the future, your PC may cost much lower than what it is now, and if it breaks down, a DNA test will be enough to fix it.

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