World’s smallest electronic diode made from single DNA molecule

Electronic components 1,000 times smaller than with silicon may be possible
April 6, 2016

By inserting a small “coralyne” molecule into DNA, scientists were able to create a single-molecule diode (connected here by two gold electrodes), which can be used as an active element in future nanoscale circuits. The diode circuit symbol is shown on the left. (credit: University of Georgia and Ben-Gurion University)

Nanoscale electronic components can be made from single DNA molecules, as researchers at the University of Georgia and at Ben-Gurion University in Israel have demonstrated, using a single molecule of DNA to create the world’s smallest diode.

DNA double helix with base pairs (credit: National Human Genome Research Institute)

A diode is a component vital to electronic devices that allows current to flow in one direction but prevents its flow in the other direction. The development could help stimulate development of DNA components for molecular electronics.

As noted in an open-access Nature Chemistry paper published this week, the researchers designed a 11-base-pair (bp) DNA molecule and inserted a small molecule named coralyne into the DNA.*

They found, surprisingly, that this caused the current flowing through the DNA to be 15 times stronger for negative voltages than for positive voltages, a necessary feature of a diode.

Electronic elements 1,00o times smaller than current components

“Our discovery can lead to progress in the design and construction of nanoscale electronic elements that are at least 1,000 times smaller than current components,” says the study’s lead author, Bingqian Xu an associate professor in the UGA College of Engineering and an adjunct professor in chemistry and physics.

The research team plans to enhance the performance of the molecular diode and construct additional molecular devices, which may include a transistor (similar to a two-layer diode, but with one additional layer).

A theoretical model developed by Yanantan Dubi of Ben-Gurion University indicated the diode-like behavior of DNA originates from the bias voltage-induced breaking of spatial symmetry inside the DNA molecule after the coralyne is inserted.

The research is supported by the National Science Foundation.

*“We prepared the DNA–coralyne complex by specifically intercalating two coralyne molecules into a custom-designed 11-base-pair (bp) DNA molecule (5′-CGCGAAACGCG-3′) containing three mismatched A–A base pairs at the centre,” according to the authors.

UPDATE April 6, 2016 to clarify the coralyne intercalation (insertion) into the DNA molecule.

Abstract of Molecular rectifier composed of DNA with high rectification ratio enabled by intercalation

The predictability, diversity and programmability of DNA make it a leading candidate for the design of functional electronic devices that use single molecules, yet its electron transport properties have not been fully elucidated. This is primarily because of a poor understanding of how the structure of DNA determines its electron transport. Here, we demonstrate a DNA-based molecular rectifier constructed by site-specific intercalation of small molecules (coralyne) into a custom-designed 11-base-pair DNA duplex. Measured current–voltage curves of the DNA–coralyne molecular junction show unexpectedly large rectification with a rectification ratio of about 15 at 1.1 V, a counter-intuitive finding considering the seemingly symmetrical molecular structure of the junction. A non-equilibrium Green’s function-based model—parameterized by density functional theory calculations—revealed that the coralyne-induced spatial asymmetry in the electron state distribution caused the observed rectification. This inherent asymmetry leads to changes in the coupling of the molecular HOMO−1 level to the electrodes when an external voltage is applied, resulting in an asymmetric change in transmission.