In a bid to develop a transistor that didn't need to be created in a "top down" approach" as is the case with silicon-based transistors, researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) turned to blood, milk and mucus proteins. The result is protein-based transistors the researchers say could form the basis of a new generation of electronic devices that are both flexible and biodegradable.

When the researchers applied various combinations of blood, milk, and mucus proteins to any base material, the molecules self-assembled to create a semi-conducting film on a nano-scale. Each of the three different kinds of proteins brought something unique to the table, said TAU Ph.D. student Elad Mentovich, and allowed the team to create a complete circuit with electronic and optical capabilities.

The blood protein's ability to absorb oxygen permitted the doping of semi-conductors with specific chemicals to create particular properties. Milk proteins, which boast impressive strength in difficult environments, were used to form the fibers that are the building blocks of the team's transistor. While mucosal proteins, with their ability to keep red, green and blue fluorescent dyes separate, were used to create the white light emission necessary for advanced optics.

By taking advantage of the natural abilities of each protein, the researchers were able to control various characteristics of the transistor, including adjusting conductivity, memory storage, and fluorescence, among other things.

The research team, which also includes Ph.D. students Netta Hendler and Bogdan Belgorodsky, supervisor Dr. Shachar Richter and Prof. Michael Gozin, believes their new transistor could play a big role in the transition from a silicon to a carbon era.

They say the protein-based transistor would be ideal for replacing silicon, which exists in wafer form and shatters when bent, leading to a new range of flexible technologies, such as displays, mobile phones, tablets, biosensors, and microchips. Additionally, the resulting products could also be biodegradable, helping to address the growing problem of electronic waste.

The researchers say they have already taken the first steps towards creating biodegradable displays, and aim to use the protein-based transistor technology to develop entire electronic devices.

The TAU team's research has appeared in the journals Nano Letters and Advanced Materials.