MONTREAL, April 27 (UPI) -- Scientists in Canada have successfully turned programmable DNA into a thermometer -- the world's smallest.
DNA molecules unfold when heated. Previous research has shown that some biomolecules, like genetic proteins or RNA, relay temperature readings inside living organisms by folding and unfolding.
"Inspired by those natural nanothermometers, which are typically 20,000-times smaller than a human hair, we have created various DNA structures that can fold and unfold at specifically defined temperatures," Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, a researcher at the University of Montreal, said in a news release.
DNA code is long and complex and it performs a virtually endless combination of biochemical functions, but its basic chemical composition is rather simple, which makes it relatively easy to restructure and program for new tasks.
"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," explained study author David Gareau.
The researchers rearranged these nucleotides to fold and unfold at specific temperatures, attaching optical markers to relay the temperature information via light.
The discovery, detailed in the journal Nano Letters, could be applied in the field of nanotechnology.
"In the near future, we also envision that these DNA-based nanothermometers may be implement in electronic-based devices in order to monitor local temperature variation at the nanoscale," added Vallée-Bélisle.
The findings may also aid scientists' understanding of molecular biology. Researchers know the body's temperature stays relatively stable, but are curious to find out if there are wider fluctuations within cells. They also want to know if natural nanostructures can overheat when overworked like man-made electronics and machines.