Increasingly detailed structural1 and dynamic2,3 studies are highlighting the precision with which biomolecules execute often complex tasks at the molecular scale. The efficiency and versatility of these processes have inspired many attempts to mimic or harness them. To date, biomolecules have been used to perform computational operations4 and actuation5, to construct artificial transcriptional loops that behave like simple circuit elements6,7 and to direct the assembly of nanocrystals8. Further development of these approaches requires new tools for the physical and chemical manipulation of biological systems. Biomolecular activity has been triggered optically through the use of chromophores9,10,11,12,13,14, but direct electronic control over biomolecular ‘machinery’ in a specific and fully reversible manner has not yet been achieved. Here we demonstrate remote electronic control over the hybridization behaviour of DNA molecules, by inductive coupling of a radio-frequency magnetic field to a metal nanocrystal covalently linked to DNA15. Inductive coupling to the nanocrystal increases the local temperature of the bound DNA, thereby inducing denaturation while leaving surrounding molecules relatively unaffected. Moreover, because dissolved biomolecules dissipate heat in less than 50 picoseconds (ref. 16), the switching is fully reversible. Inductive heating of macroscopic samples is widely used17,18,19, but the present approach should allow extension of this concept to the control of hybridization and thus of a broad range of biological functions on the molecular scale.
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We thank N. Afeyan, E. Lander and P. Matsudaira for discussions in the early stages of this work, and J.P. Shi for comments on the experimental work. This work was supported by DARPA and the MIT Media Lab TTT consortium.
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Hamad-Schifferli, K., Schwartz, J., Santos, A. et al. Remote electronic control of DNA hybridization through inductive coupling to an attached metal nanocrystal antenna. Nature 415, 152–155 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/415152a