It seems IBM is deep at work developing a revolutionary new method for assembling microchips. This process will involve using self-assembled DNA nanostructures to create microchips and chip components. Or, to put it more dramatically, DNA would be used as a sort of “origami”, serving as a sort of scaffolding in the arrangement of nanotubes and allowing the company to develop microchips that are smaller and much less expensive to produce.
But of course, the long-term goal is much more ambitious. According to Greg Wallraff, a scientist working with IBM, the “goal is to use these structures to assemble carbon nanontubes, silicon nanowires, quantum dots. What we are really making are tiny DNA circuit boards that will be used to assemble other components.” In short, this could be not only a step towards bioassembly, nanotechnology, and even quantum computing.
For some time now, scientists have been experimenting with DNA as an assembler for microcircuits. One such individual is Paul W. K. Rothemund, a research associate at the California Institute of Technology, who developed DNA origami back in 2006. This involved taking a long strand of viral DNA, putting into a 2 or 3-D shape, and then holding it together with shorter strands of DNA. In this way, he was able to create shapes such as triangles, stars and smiley faces, according to his Caltech Web site.
Based on this process, complex DNA nanostructures are made in solution and then applied to surfaces which have designated “sticky spots” to ensure that they hold a specific configuration. Once the scaffold is in place, molecules of polymer, metal and other materials can then be guided into place, assembled from the cellular level outward. According to Rothemund, there are still some problems that need to be worked out and it is likely to be another 10 years before the process is entirely viable.
Still, for enthusiasts of bioware, biotech, and nanotechnology, this is exciting news. To know that we could be just ten years away from components assembled by nanostructures composed of living material, a stepping stone towards machinery composed entirely of DNA structures or nanomachines themselves… like I said, exciting!