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Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and their partners have used genetic engineering to create materials that would change electronics.

Superconductors, which have zero electrical resistance, are possible outcomes of engineered materials. Current means of electrical transmission lose energy and create heat, but that's not the case with them. Hyper-fast computers, shrink the size of electronic devices, allow high-speed trains to float on magnets, and slash energy use are some of the things that could be achieved with the development of a superconductor.

More than 50 years ago, William A. Little proposed one of these superconductors. After years of trying to make it work, scientists were left with a challenge that seemed impossible to overcome. It has been this way until now.

Edward H. Egelman has been a leader in the field of cryo-EM, and he has used it with a graduate student. He said that the technique has great potential.

At the atomic level, engineering is done.

Modification of carbon nanotubes, hollow cylinders of carbon so tiny they must be measured in nanometers, is one way to realize Little's idea for a superconductor. The biggest challenge was controlling chemical reactions along the nanotubes so that the lattice could be assembled as it was intended.

The answer was found in the very beginning of life. They took DNA, the genetic material that tells living cells how to function, and used it to guide a chemical reaction that would overcome Little's superconductor. Structural engineering can be done at the level of individual molecule. Little's room- temperature superconductor required a lattice of carbon nanotubes to be assembled.

The work shows that the spacing between adjacent reaction sites can be controlled with the help of the genes.

The lattice they built has not been tested for superconductivity, but it is a proof of principle and has great potential for the future. "While biology has emerged as the main technique for determining the atomic structures of protein assembly, it has had much less impact thus far in materials science," said Egelman, whose previous work led to his induction in the National Academy of Sciences.

Egelman and his colleagues say their approach to lattice construction could be used for a lot of different purposes. It supports the idea of building a room-temperature superconductor. The scientists' work could transform technology as we know it and lead to a much more Star Trek future.

While we often think of biology using tools and techniques from physics, our work shows that the approaches being developed in biology can actually be applied to problems in physics and engineering Not being able to predict where our work will go is exciting about science.

The findings have been published.

More information: Zhiwei Lin et al, DNA-guided lattice remodeling of carbon nanotubes, Science (2022). DOI: 10.1126/science.abo4628 Journal information: Science