|The best semiconductors are grown, not made. At least, this might one
day be the case. Proteins that can build silica nanostructures on our
behalf have been 'evolved' in the lab. The structures could find a use
in the semiconductor industry.
Researchers at the University of Leeds, UK, wondered whether proteins
that evolved to help build animal skeletons could be used to grow new
electronics components. The team chose silicateins - proteins that build
the silica skeletons of marine sponges - as the basis for their work.
Using DNA amplification techniques, they grew millions of strands of DNA
that code for silicateins. Mutations arise naturally during the process,
so the final pool of DNA contained enough variation to ensure that some
of the silicateins would build different kinds of mineral structures.
The researchers then attached the DNA to polystyrene microbeads and
placed them in a solution containing a silicon-rich compound. The team
was looking to select proteins that could draw silicon out of the
solution to build silica structures around the beads, while still
allowing access to the DNA on the surface of the bead. This would make
it easy to collect and amplify the DNA that made the most promising
structures. The end product? Proteins that built silica structures
unlike any seen in nature.
With further evolution it should be possible to grow silica structures
of the right size and shape for use in technological applications.