Researchers have made the first precise measurements of DNA's ability to conduct electricity laterally, across its double helix structure. The team's newly improved methods confirm that DNA has some properties in common with those of semiconductors and might help in the development of new genome-sequencing technology as well as DNA-based electronics.
Life's double helix is not a metal, so it has no freely roaming electrons to carry currents. But DNA has "excited" states that electrons can hop between if they have sufficient energy.
DNA's complexity and flexibility have made it hard, however, to analyze the detailed structure of its excited states. It's a "finicky, difficult molecule," says Stuart Lindsay, a chemist at Arizona State University in Tempe.