It is 20,000 times smaller than a human hair, created by using DNA structures that can fold and unfold at specifically defined temperatures, it is the world’s tiniest thermometer.
Researchers from the Laboratory of Biosensors and Nanomachines at the University of Montreal report that they’ve created a thermometer out of DNA in a recent article in the journal Nano Letters.
Over 60 years ago, researchers discovered that the DNA molecules that encode our genetic information can unfold when heated.
DNA molecules unfold in response to heat, so the researchers created DNA structures that would unfold and fold at very specific temperatures.
Thus, the structure of the DNA strands can reveal data about the temperature.
The thermometer has a range of 122°F, and when the temperature reaches certain levels, the tiny thermometer sends out light-based signals.
The finding could one day be used to measure temperature in nanotechnology or even to monitor changes in temperature between individual cells in the human body.
One of the main advantages of using DNA to engineer molecular thermometers is that DNA chemistry is relatively simple and programmable.
“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,” said co-author Dr. David Gareau from the University of Montreal’s Laboratory of Biosensors and Nanomachines.
“Using these simple design rules we are able to create DNA structures that fold and unfold at a specifically desired temperature.”
“By adding optical reporters to these DNA structures, we can therefore create 5 nm wide thermometers that produce an easily detectable signal as a function of temperature,” said co-author Dr. Arnaud Desrosiers.
These nano thermometers open many avenues in the emerging field of nanotechnology, and may even help researchers to better understand molecular biology.