February 15, 2010
Progress On Nanotech For DNA Sequencing

The ultimate DNA sequencing devices will process individual strands of DNA, one letter at a time, thru measuring gates. Arizona State University researcher Stuart Lindsay leads a team using nanotech to read strands of DNA.

Lindsay's team relies on the eyes of nanotechnology, scanning tunneling- (STM) and atomic force- (ATM) microscopes, to make their measurements. The microscopes have a delicate electrode tip that is held very close to the DNA sample. In their latest innovation, Lindsay's team made two electrodes, one on the end of microscope probe, and another on the surface, that had their tiny ends chemically modified to attract and catch the DNA between a gap like a pair of chemical tweezers. The gap between these functionalized electrodes had to be adjusted to find the chemical bonding sweet spot, so that when a single chemical base of DNA passed through a tiny, 2.5 nanometer gap between two gold electrodes, it momentarily sticks to the electrodes and a small increase in the current is detected. Any smaller, and the molecules would be able to bind in many configurations, confusing the readout, any bigger and smaller bases would not be detected.

"What we did was to narrow the number of types of bound configurations to just one per DNA base," said Lindsay. "The beauty of the approach is that all the four bases just fit the 2.5 nanometer gap, so it is one size fits all, but only just so!"

At this scale, which is just a few atomic diameters wide, quantum phenomena are at play where the electrons can actually leak from one electrode to the other, tunneling through the DNA bases in the process. Each of the chemical bases of the DNA genetic code, abbreviated A, C, T or G, gives a unique electrical signature as they pass between the gap in the electrodes. By trial and error, and a bit of serendipity, they discovered that just a single chemical modification to both electrodes could distinguish between all 4 DNA bases.

"We've now made a generic DNA sequence reader and are the first group to report the detection of all 4 DNA bases in one tunnel gap," said Lindsay. "Also, the control experiments show that there is a certain (poor) level of discrimination with even bare electrodes (the control experiments) and this is in itself, a first too."

The computer revolution has been driven by rapidly making devices of ever smaller sizes. Smaller is cheaper and faster. The same drive to smaller scale in biotechnology makes the rate of advance in biotech look more like the very fast rate of advance in computing. I am optimistic about the prospects for developing rejuvenation therapies mainly because of this drive to attack biological problems at much smaller scale which enables greater precision, finer control, more automation, and therefore much lower costs.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 February 15 05:37 PM  Biotech Assay Tools

random said at February 16, 2010 11:25 AM:

It won't be long before they can use a similar process to encode DNA. That's when the real fun will start.

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