Researchers have developed a device that uses 55,000 perfectly aligned, microscopic pens to write patterns with features the size of viruses. The tool could allow researchers to study the behavior of cells at a new rate of speed and level of detail, potentially leading to better diagnostics and treatments for diseases such as cancer.
The device builds on a technique called dip-pen nanolithography, which was first developed in 1999 by Chad Mirkin, professor of chemistry, medicine, and materials science and engineering at Northwestern University. In that system, the tip of a single atomic force microscope (AFM) probe is dipped in selected molecules, much as a quill pen would be dipped in ink. Then the molecules slip from the tip of the probe onto a surface, forming lines or dots less than 100 nanometers wide. Their size is controlled by the speed of the pen.
Because it operates at room temperature, the dip-pen tool is particularly useful for working with biological materials, such as proteins and segments of DNA that would be damaged by high-energy methods like electron beam lithography.
"This development should lead to massively miniaturized gene chips, combinatorial libraries for screening pharmaceutically active materials and new ways of fabricating and integrating nanoscale or even molecular-scale components for electronics and computers," said Chad A. Mirkin, director of Northwestern's International Institute for Nanotechnology and George B. Rathmann Professor of Chemistry, who led the research.
"In addition, it could lead to new ways of studying biological systems at the single particle level, which is important for understanding how cancer cells and viruses work and for getting them to stop what they do," he said. "Essentially one can build an entire gene or protein chip that fits underneath a single cell."
The rate of advance of biological research and biotechnology is increasingly driven by technology developed in the semiconductor industry. The technological trends that make computer power increase so rapidly are increasingly driving an acceleration of the rate at which biotechnology advances.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2006 October 01 10:04 PM Biotech Advance Rates|