Tricking Cells Into Making Silicon Chips

A research team at CalTech in San Diego has mutated bacterial DNA, producing an enzyme which can bind carbon with silicon - the very stuff of microprocessors.


(Caltech scientists coax cells into silicon bonds)

‘We decided to get nature to do what only chemists could do, only better,’ said Frances Arnold, a researcher at CalTech and principal investigator on the study.

The team isolated a protein found in a bacterium which bathes in the hot springs of Iceland.

Called cytochrome c, it is used by cells to share out electrons, but at low levels it was also seen to combine silicon and carbon.

By tweaking the bacterium’s genetic instructions for the protein, they were able to target an iron-containing region of the protein responsible for the silicon-carbon bonds.

The resulting protein is an enzyme able to make bonds 15 times more efficiently than the best artificial catalyst produced by chemists. The same method has been used to produce enzymes for detergents and other common products.

The team explains that the silicon enzyme could find a number of industrial applications and would avoid the use of precious metals and toxic solvents used in synthetic methods.

By introducing the DNA for the enzyme to E.coli, they could have biofactories knitting together silicon and carbon for industrial compounds.

Fans of the Marvel Iron Man comic from the 1980's may recall that the suit-tiles were created by a process of biological circuit fabrication:

Micro-Scale suit tiles fabricated by genetically engineered metal affinity bacteria which assemble themselves in specific orderly arrays, then expire, leaving behind various metallic deposits which form all the metal shapes and microscopic circuits.

Via Daily Mail.

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