Women in Nanoscience


Women in Nano Blog

Ze Waller's DNA switches demonstrate how they might replace traditional inorganic semiconductors as on-off switches in electronic devices

Posted on August 28, 2015 at 4:40 PM

Computers store decimal numbers as ones and zeros. But then how do computers add, subtract, multiply and divide these numbers? These operations are performed by "logic gates" with on-off switches. Think of a physical five-bar gate either letting you into a driveway, or not. Currently, these switches are made of inorganic semiconductors but in the future, they might be replaced by DNA!


DNA has been shown to be capable of acting as a switch by changing its structure when triggered by the presence of an acid. But it had not been shown if DNA switches were capable of switching its structure more than once, until the recent work by Dr. Zoë Waller.

Waller is a lecturer in Chemical Biology at the University of East Anglia's (U.K.) School of Pharmacy. She and her colleagues demonstrated that DNA can transform its structure twice, by transforming into a "hair-pin" structure in the presence of a copper salt and then switching back to the original structure in the presence of EDTA, which is a type of acid commonly found in shampoo. The fact that DNA's switching is based on a copper salt also makes it useful as a sensor for detecting copper salts in the environment, which is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. Details of this study were published in Chemical Communications.


Dr. Waller's research focuses on studying drug-nucleic acid interactions and alternative DNA structures by utilizing different experimental tool sets from organic synthesis, biophysics and molecular biology. She is currently the Chair of the RSC East Anglia Section, an associate of the Faculty of 1000 and a STEM ambassador.

- Written by Eugene Choi, Edited by Paulette Clancy

(Photo credit: Provided by Dr. Waller, credit to University of East Anglia).

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