DNA Can Be Used As A Flame Retardant

Apply heat to DNA and it becomes useless. Try to set it on fire and suddenly you rediscover a use for it. Deoxyribonucleic acid is a great way to put out a flame. To understand why this is, we can look at its chemistry.

DNA has three ways to put out a flame. First, it has phosphate groups, which turn into phosphoric acid. While phosphorus is flammable and can be used in incendiary devices, phosphoric acid and water form a flame-retardant residue. The deoxyribose in DNA is a carbon source and could be used to feed a flame. However, when set alight, it not only releases water, it forms a "blowing agent." Blowing agents are foaming gels and are often added to flame retardants. They form char, the already-burned stuff that can act as a protective shield. Finally, DNA has its famous bases: guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine. They all contain nitrogen and, when burned, they all release ammonia, which is another natural flame retardant.


It's possible that DNA can be used as a way to protect plastics, and even clothes, from fire. The scientists who tested DNA's fire-proofing properties used DNA to protect ordinary cotton cloth. Some might be hesitant to buy this clothing, though. The best and most available source of DNA comes from sperm. In fact, the cloth in the experiment was covered in a coat of the DNA from herring sperm.

At least it's all natural.

Top Image: Andrés Nieto Porras

[Sources: DNA: A Novel, Green, Natural Flame Retardant and Suppressant For Cotton, Effect of a Novel Charring-Foaming Agent.]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter