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Sunday January 29th

UNC Experiment Yields Liquid DNA

University scientists have successfully created a liquid form of DNA, a discovery that could prove important in the technological field.

The latest issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society featured a paper describing the experiment, which was the result of collaboration between chemistry professors Royce Murray and Holden Thorp and graduate student Tony Leone.

While the practical uses of the discovery have not yet been fully explored, Thorp said the liquid DNA could be used for microelectrical applications, such as one day perhaps building a computer run by DNA.

Leone said the computer industry is always looking to make machines smaller, and the liquid DNA, which is the consistency of molasses, might be a good electrical conductor.

"The (DNA) molecule by itself is not able to do it," Leone said. "In this liquid form, the DNA is conductive."

Murray said liquid DNA also is soluble in a number of common experimental solvents, whereas solid DNA is only soluble in water. This application will allow scientists to study and process DNA in different ways. Experiments that cannot take place in water, such as organic reactions involving DNA, can now be studied.

"We can't stand up and say there are any practical applications, but there are things we can explore," Thorp said.

Murray said the catalyst for the experiment came almost ten years ago, when he was searching for a process to make chemical materials molten. He found that if polymers -- a type of chemical compound that consists of repeating structural units -- were added to solid substances, they disorganized the solid's ordered structure.

Murray said a particular polymer, ethylene glycol, successfully converted the solid to a liquid on every test.

Thorp and Murray first had the idea to apply the experiment to DNA shortly after the initial research. Leone was assigned to the study as a part of his graduate work.

"I've interacted with (Leone) regularly, and he's done a remarkable job in his thesis research," Murray said.

Thorp, Murray and Leone plan to continue studying the new form of DNA. Leone said the experience has opened up new possibilities for him.

"It made me consider an academic career where I hadn't before," he said. "I always thought I'd get a Ph.D. and go into industry. But you can't do stuff like this on industry -- these off-the-wall ideas."

Leone said the first successful test involving DNA was performed about a year ago, and Murray and Holden are now filing patents on the discovery.

"It's exciting," Holden said. "We weren't sure if this was going to work. When (Leone) got these liquids together it was a eureka moment."

The University Editor can be reached at udesk@unc.edu.

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