In a paper published  in Nature Nanotechnology, an international group of scientists announced the most significant breakthrough in a decade toward developing DNA-based electrical circuits.

The development of computers was the central technological revolution of the 20th century, leading to the communication and Internet era. The main measure of this evolution is miniaturization: making our machines smaller. In the 1970s, a computer with the memory of the average laptop today was the size of a tennis court. Yet while scientists made great strides in reducing of the size of individual computer components through microelectronics, they have been less successful at reducing the distance between transistors, the main element of our computers. These spaces between transistors have been much more challenging and extremely expensive to miniaturize – an obstacle that limits the future development of computers.

Molecular electronics, which uses molecules as building blocks for the fabrication of electronic components, was seen as the ultimate solution to the miniaturization challenge. However, no one has actually been able to make complex electrical circuits using molecules yet. The only known molecules that can be pre-designed to self-assemble into complex miniature circuits, which could in turn be used in computers, are DNA molecules. Nevertheless, no one has been able to demonstrate reliably and quantitatively the flow of electrical current through long DNA molecules – until now.

An international group led by Prof. Danny Porath of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem reports reproducible and quantitative measurements of electricity flow through long molecules made of four DNA strands. This signals a significant breakthrough towards the development of DNA-based electrical circuits. The research, which could re-ignite interest in the use of DNA-based wires and devices in the development of programmable circuits, appears in the prestigious journal Nature Nanotechnology under the title “Long-range charge transport in single G-quadruplex DNA molecules.”

Prof. Porath is affiliated with The Hebrew University’s Institute of Chemistry and its Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology. Alexander Kotlyar from Tel Aviv University produced the molecules for the group and has been collaborating with Porath for 15 years and Gideon Livshits, a PhD student in the Porath group, performed the measurements. The research was carried out in collaboration with groups from Denmark, Spain, U.S., Italy and Cyprus.

According to Prof. Porath, “This research paves the way for implementing DNA-based programmable circuits for molecular electronics, a new generation of computer circuits that can be more sophisticated, cheaper and simpler to make.”

The European Commission, the European Science Foundation, the Israel Science Foundation, the Binational Science Foundation, the Minerva Center for Bio-Hybrid complex systems, the Institute for Advanced Studies of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Italian Institute of Technology project MOPROSURF, the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Modena, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Science Foundation supported the research.