Current Issue
April 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Keeping you current

Cloth Coated in Fish Sperm DNA Doesn’t Burn

Coated in sperm DNA and set on fire, this cotton cloth just doesn't want to burn

DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is a wonderful molecule. The blueprint of all life, the little double helix holds massive amounts of information in a tightly coiled structure—a repeating sequence of limited molecular variability that provides all of life’s diversity. DNA is also, apparently, a pretty good flame retardant.

According to a new study, scientists who collected sperm from herring, isolated the DNA, dissolved it in water, rubbed it on a cotton cloth, let it dry out and set it on fire with a natural gas torch found that DNA prevents the cloth from burning. (Science is weird.)

Wired‘s Nadia Drake writes:

DNA’s chemical structure makes it ideal for the flame-stopping job. When heated, its phosphate-containing backbone produces phosphoric acid, which chemically removes water from cotton fibers while leaving behind a flame-resistant, carbon-rich residue. The nitrogen-containing bases release ammonia — which dilutes flammable gases and inhibits combustion reactions — and can act as “blowing agents,” which help turn the carbon-rich deposits into a slow-burning protective layer. Ultimately, these ingredients stop combustion by forming either a carbon-rich foam, or a protective, glassy carbon coating called char.

A cotton cloth with sperm DNA:

And without sperm DNA:

The scientists say that DNA could potentially be used as a next generation flame retardant in fabrics. But it probably wouldn’t hurt their sales figures if they could find a different DNA source.

More from Smithsonian.com:

This Gun Shoots Criminals With DNA
Books of the Future May Be Written in DNA
Junk DNA Isn’t Junk, and That Isn’t Really News

Tags
About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus