January 03, 2010
Carbon Nanotubes For DNA Sequencing

Carbon nanotubes can measure electrical fields of individual DNA letters.

Faster sequencing of DNA holds enormous potential for biology and medicine, particularly for personalized diagnosis and customized treatment based on each individual's genomic makeup. At present however, sequencing technology remains cumbersome and cost prohibitive for most clinical applications, though this may be changing, thanks to a range of innovative new techniques.

In the current issue of Science, Stuart Lindsay, director of Arizona State University's Center for Single Molecule Biophysics at the Biodesign Institute, along with his colleagues, demonstrates the potential of one such method in which a single-stranded ribbon of DNA is threaded through a carbon nanotube, producing voltage spikes that provide information about the passage of DNA bases as they pass through the tube—a process known as translocation.

This technique is nowhere near ready for production use. But it illustrates where biology is going: manipulate individual molecules using nanotechnology. As computer chip manufacturing advances have shown, the smaller things can be made the lower costs can drop. Carbon nanotubes and other nano components will be used to make nanodevices for doing biological assays and manipulations. DNA will be sequenced and synthesized by cheap small devices. DNA sequencing machines will some day be hand held.

Miniaturization of computing and communication technologies led to the cell phone and texting. The resulting reshaping of personal interactions illustrates how technology that each person can hold will change how we relate to each other. I argue that something similar will happen with personal DNA sequencers. People will check out each others' DNA sequences in mating situations such as in bars and night clubs. In some cases the DNA samples will be gotten surreptitiously (e.g. kiss someone while running fingers thru their hair to get hair ends with cells on them). In other cases potential mates will simply demand some spit to check out. People will choose others based on odds of personality traits and other characteristics at least partially controlled by genes.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 January 03 10:40 PM  Biotech Assay Tools

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