Roll-up TV and computer screens developed by Tel Aviv University scientists

A roll-up TV and computer screen which emits a full range of colors in one pliable pixel layer will soon become a reality, say scientists at Tel Aviv University who developed a novel DNA-peptide structure.

The demand for instant, constant communication grows, as does consumer desire for convenient portable devices, especially devices such as computer displays that can be rapidly rolled up and put away, rather than our current hard, flat-surfaced technology that occupies a lot of space and is cumbersome to transport.

Professor Ehud Gazit and PhD student Or Berger, both from Tel Aviv University’s Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, together with Prof. Fernando Patolsky and Dr. Yuval Ebenstein from the University’s School of Chemistry, have developed a new DNA-peptide structure that harnesses bionanotechnology to emit the whole spectrum of humanly-visible colors in one pliable pixel layer – rather than the several rigid layers that constitute current screens.

Roll up screen

Tel Aviv scientists believe we will soon be able to roll-up our screens. (Image: Tel Aviv University)

Details on this study have been published in the academic journal Nature Nanotechnology (citation below).

Prof. Gazit said:

“Our material is light, organic, and environmentally friendly. It is flexible, and a single layer emits the same range of light that requires several layers today. By using only one layer, you can minimize production costs dramatically, which will lead to lower prices for consumers as well.”

From genes to screens

In this study, which formed part of Berger’s doctoral thesis, the scientists tested several combinations of peptides: compounds consisting of two or more amino acids linked in a chain, embedded with DNA elements which enable the self-assembly of a unique molecular architecture.

DNA and peptides are the two most basic building blocks of life. In fact, you can even buy peptides online now. The cells of every living organism are composed of these building blocks. Bionanotechnologists use these building blocks to develop new technologies with properties not available for inorganic materials such as metal or plastic.

Berger said:

“Our lab has been working on peptide nanotechnology for over a decade, but DNA nanotechnology is a distinct and fascinating field as well. When I started my doctoral studies, I wanted to try and converge the two approaches.”

“In this study, we focused on PNA – peptide nucleic acid, a synthetic hybrid molecule of peptides and DNA. We designed and synthesized different PNA sequences, and tried to build nano-metric architectures with them.”

Using methods such as X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy, the scientists discovered that three of the molecules they had synthesized could self-assemble into ordered structures within a few minutes.

Structures with DNA and peptide characteristics

While resembling the natural double-helix form of DNA, the structures also exhibited peptide features, resulting in a very unique molecular arrangement that reflects the duality of the new material.

Berger said:

“Once we discovered the DNA-like organization, we tested the ability of the structures to bind to DNA-specific fluorescent dyes.”

“To our surprise, the control sample, with no added dye, emitted the same fluorescence as the variable. This proved that the organic structure is itself naturally fluorescent.”

The whole spectrum

The researchers found that the structures emitted light in every color, unlike other fluorescent materials that can only shine in one specific color.

They also observed that light emission responded to electric voltage, making the material a perfect candidate for opto-electronic devices, such as display screens.

The study was funded by Tel Aviv University’s transfer company the Momentum Fund of Ramot, which has also patented the new technology.

The team is currently building a prototype of the screen and are discussing the technology with major consumer electronics companies.

Citation: Light-emitting self-assembled peptide nucleic acids exhibit both stacking interactions and Watson–Crick base pairing,” Or Berger, Lihi Adler-Abramovich, Michal Levy-Sakin, Assaf Grunwald, Yael Liebes-Peer, Mor Bachar, Ludmila Buzhansky, Estelle Mossou, V. Trevor Forsyth, Tal Schwartz, Yuval Ebenstein, Felix Frolow, Linda J. W. Shimon, Fernando Patolsky & Ehud Gazit. Nature Nanotechnology. Published 16 March, 2015. DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2015.27.