The DNA Nanothermometer

Over the past few decades studies on DNA, the 'source code of life' which carries the genetic identity of living things, have opened doors to a number of new applications, especially in technology. Case in point, recent research shows that DNA has been used to create tiny diodes, and that it can possibly be used to store gigabytes of data.

Even more recently, scientists from the University of Montreal created a programmable DNA nanothermometer. The work was outlined in a study published in Nano Letters.

Studies about DNA, along with RNA, another biomolecule, have shown that these molecules "unfold" when exposed to a certain temperature. To this extent, they are are kind of like natural nanothermometers.

Ultimately, the characteristics of these molecules were the foundation of the thermometer that the researchers at Montreal constructed. And what they made is actually 20,000 times smaller than human hair!

A fluorescence vs temperature plot of the DNA molecules in the study. Credit: Nano Letters

Natural Programming

DNA is also easily programmable, thanks to its simple chemistry. First Author David Gareau explains, "DNA is made from four different monomer molecules called nucleotides: nucleotide A binds weakly to nucleotide T, whereas nucleotide C binds strongly to nucleotide G."

With this, researchers were able to create and program 5 nm-wide thermometers that fold and unfold to produce detectable signals that indicate temperature variations.

Researchers on the study say that this thermometer could help better understand biology at the molecular level. Senior Author Prof. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle says that the human body maintains temperature at 37° C, but temperature variation at the cell level is yet to be documented. This could help change that.

Furthermore, the team envisions that this DNA-based technology could be applied in electronics in the near future to better monitor temperature by looking at it at a nanoscale. The video below shows what happens to a DNA molecule when exposed to heat:

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