Scientists create world’s smallest thermometer from DNA

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Now, we can take a temperature in a hard-to-reach spot and monitor local temperature variation at the nanoscale as a group of scientists at the University of Montreal have created the world’s tiniest thermometer that is 20,000 times smaller than a human hair, using DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) structures that can fold and unfold at specifically defined temperatures. A study report in this regard was published in the journal Nano Letters.

About 60 years ago, researchers discovered that the DNA molecules that encode our genetic information can unfold when heated and in recent years, biochemists have also discovered that biomolecules such as proteins or RNA (a molecule similar to DNA) are employed as nanothermometers in living organisms and report temperature variation by folding or unfolding. 

DNA is made from four different monomer molecules called nucleotides - nucleotide A binds weakly to nucleotide T, whereas nucleotide C binds strongly to nucleotide G. By adding optical reporters to these DNA structures, the scientists can therefore create 5 nm wide thermometers that produces easily detectable signal as a function of temperature.

With this idea researchers engineered DNA structures that are capable of folding and unfolding at specific temperatures making it nano-scale  temperature signalling device.One of the main advantages of using DNA to engineer molecular thermometers is that DNA chemistry is relatively simple and programmable.

Application of nanothermometers

The nanoscale thermometers can open many exciting avenues in the emerging field of nanotechnology, and may even help to better understand molecular biology. In the  near future, these  nanothermometers may be implemented in electronic-based devices in order to monitor local temperature variation at the nanoscale. The thermometer will also help in understanding biological functions better.


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