New DNA-Based Chip Programmed to Solve Complex Math Problems

The field of DNA computing has evolved by leaps and bounds since it was first proposed nearly 30 years ago. But most DNA computing processes are still performed manually, with reactants being added step-by-step to the reaction by hand. Now, finally, scientists at Incheon National University, Korea have found a way to automate DNA calculations by developing a unique chip that can be controlled by a personal computer. DNA computing, such as the calculations performed by the novel DNA-based microchip, has the potential to execute complex mathematical functions more easily than conventional electronic computers can.

The term ‘DNA’ immediately calls to mind the double-stranded helix that contains all our genetic information. But the individual units of its two strands are pairs of molecules bonded with each other in a selective, complementary fashion. Turns out, one can take advantage of this pairing property to perform complex mathematical calculations, and this forms the basis of DNA computing.

Since DNA has only two strands, performing even a simple calculation requires multiple chemical reactions using different sets of DNA. In most existing research, the DNA for each reaction are added manually, one by one, into a single reaction tube, which makes the process very cumbersome. Microfluidic chips, which consist of narrow channels etched onto a material like plastic, offer a way to automate the process. But despite their promise, the use of microfluidic chips for DNA computing remains underexplored.

In a recent article-made available online in ACS Nano a team of scientists from Incheon National University (INU), Korea, present a programmable DNA-based microfluidic chip that can be controlled by a personal computer to perform DNA calculations.

Our hope is that DNA-based CPUs will replace electronic CPUs in the future because they consume less power, which will help with global warming. DNA-based CPUs also provide a platform for complex calculations like deep learning solutions and mathematical modelling,” says Dr. Youngjun Song from INU, who led the study.

Dr. Song and team used 3D printing to fabricate their microfluidic chip, which can execute Boolean logic, one of the fundamental logics of computer programming. Boolean logic is a type of true-or-false logic that compares inputs and returns a value of ‘true’ or ‘false’ depending on the type of operation, or ‘logic gate,’ used. The logic gate in this experiment consisted of a single-stranded DNA template. Different single-stranded DNA were then used as inputs. If part of an input DNA had a complementary Watson-Crick sequence to the template DNA, it paired to form double-stranded DNA. The output was considered true or false based on the size of the final DNA.


Transparent Solar Cells To Boost Personalized Energy

Today, the imminent climate change crisis demands a shift from conventionally used fossil fuels to efficient sources of green energy. This has led to researchers looking into the concept of “personalized energy,” which would make on-site energy generation possible. For example, solar cells could possibly be integrated into windows, vehicles, cellphone screens, and other everyday products. But for this, it is important for the solar panels to be handy and transparent. To this end, scientists have recently developed “transparent photovoltaic” (TPV) devices–transparent versions of the traditional solar cell. Unlike the conventionally dark, opaque solar cells (which absorb visible light), TPVs make use of the “invisible light that falls in the ultraviolet (UV) range.

Conventional solar cells can be either “wet type” (solution based) or “dry type” (made up of metal-oxide semiconductors). Of these, dry-type solar cells have a slight edge over the wet-type ones: they are more reliable, eco-friendly, and cost-effective. Moreover, metal-oxides are well-suited to make use of the UV light. Despite all this, however, the potential of metal-oxide TPVs has not been fully explored until now. To this end, researchers from Incheon National University, Republic of Korea, came up with an innovative design for a metal-oxide-based TPV device. They inserted an ultra-thin layer of silicon (Si) between two transparent metal-oxide semiconductors with the goal of developing an efficient TPV device.

Our aim was to devise a high-power-producing transparent solar cell, by embedding an ultra-thin film of amorphous Si between zinc oxide and nickel oxide,” explains Prof Joondong Kim, who led the study.

This novel design consisting of the Si film had three major advantages. First, it allowed for the utilization of longer-wavelength light (as opposed to bare TPVs). Second, it resulted in efficient photon collection. Third, it allowed for the faster transport of charged particles to the electrodes. Moreover, the design can potentially generate electricity even under low-light situations (for instance, on cloudy or rainy days). The scientists further confirmed the power-generating ability of the device by using it to operate the DC motor of a fan.

These findings has been published in a study in Nano Energy.