Researchers develop liquid form of DNA

CHAPEL HILL -- For the first time, scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have successfully created a liquid form of DNA, the complex helical molecule that serves as the blueprint for development and growth of all living things. Because the research is so novel, the chemists cannot predict with certainty what practical applications their work will have. They believe, however, that liquid DNA will prove useful both in understanding DNA better and in improving genetic engineering and microelectronic circuitry.

A paper describing the experiments appears in the current issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Authors are graduate students Anthony M. Leone, Stephanie C. Weatherly and Mary Elizabeth Williams and Drs. H. Holden Thorp, professor of chemistry, and Royce W. Murray, Kenan professor of chemistry, all at UNC-CH.

"In the laboratory, DNA is usually in a dilute solution of water to be studied or as a crystalline solid that we really can't do anything with," said Thorp. "Now, we have figured out how to make it in a liquid form so that we and others will be able to process it in various new ways. We've also put it on top of microelectronic circuits and can run electricity through it."

Physically, the new molten salt form of DNA is less like water and more like molasses in January or "honey in wintertime Vermont," Murray said. The material they worked with originated in herring fish.

The team succeed in liquifying the DNA by combining negatively charged DNA crystals with positively charged molten metal complexes containing ethylene oxide tails. Murray, his colleagues and students have employed that molecular trick successfully over the past decade with a variety of other substances.

"There's been a lot of discussion about using DNA to make circuits because it has a built-in ability to recognize complementary sequences of itself," Thorp said. "What has not been clear is how to get DNA on little bits and

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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