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See Inside November 2008

Smart DNA: Programming the Molecule of Life for Work and Play

Logic gates made of DNA could one day operate in your bloodstream, collectively making medical decisions and taking action. For now, they play a mean game of in vitro tic-tac-toe



Jean-Francois Podevin

From a modern chemist’s perspective, the structure of DNA in our genes is rather mundane. The molecule has a well-known importance for life, but chemists often see only a uniform double helix with almost no functional behavior on its own. It may come as a surprise, then, to learn that this molecule is the basis of a truly rich and strange research area that bridges synthetic chemistry, enzymology, structural nanotechnology and computer science.

Using this new science, we have constructed molecular versions of logic gates that can operate in water solution. Our goal in building these DNA-based computing modules is to develop nanoscopic machines that could exist in living organisms, sensing conditions and making decisions based on what they sense, then responding with actions such as releasing medicine or killing specific cells.

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