With that in mind, a team of engineers and chemists from Xu's laboratory and Shana Kelley's group at Boston College, US, worked together to investigate whether DNA-driven, self-assembly-based fabrication of nanostructures could be extended to build higher order materials. "We were curious to see if the coding scheme used in nature to program the human genome could be used to program the synthesis of materials and devices," said Kelley.

The researchers used DNA templating to position gold nanoparticle catalysts on the tips of carbon nanotubes. Then they grew zinc oxide nanowires on the catalyst particles, producing hybrid nanostructures.

Possible applications for such sequenced nanowires are molecular scale photoemitters and detectors. "If we were able to wire several together then even more complex devices are feasible," added Adam Lazareck of Brown University. "The next step is to measure the light detection capabilities of these structures. As the photocurrent generated is through a single carbon nanotube, this should be quite a challenging endeavour."