An international group of scientists announces the development of a new synthetic device that can be used to conduct measurements and analyses of single DNA molecules passing through them.
The innovation consists of an artificial nanopore-like structure, which is embedded in a small chip. By using a method combining synthetic and biological materials, the team was able to create the new instrument, which is bound to make genetic analyses faster and cheaper.
In charge of the investigation were researchers from the Delft University of Technology
(TU Delft) and the Oxford University, in the United Kingdom.
Details of their research appear in the November 28 issue of the esteemed scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology. What sets this device apart from the rest is the fact that it can work with single molecules of genetic material.
“The first mapping of the human genome – where the content of the human DNA was read off ('sequenced') – was completed in 2003 and it cost an estimated 3 billion US dollars,” says Cees Dekker.
“Imagine if that cost could drop to a level of a few 100 euro, where everyone could have their own personal genome sequenced,” the expert adds.
“That would allow doctors to diagnose diseases and treat them before any symptoms arise,” says the expert, who holds an appointment as a professor at the TU Delft Kavli Institute of Nanoscience.
Some time ago, scientists figured it out that they could use nanopores, nanoscale holes in certain materials, to analyze DNA molecules as they pass through, one of them at a time.
What the collaboration learned in the new study was that, by combining artificial and biological building blocks, they could obtain a nanopore-based device that more efficient, and also faster.
The investigation was conducted in cooperation with a team led by expert Hagan Bayley at the Oxford University.
“Nanopores are already used for DNA analysis by inserting naturally occurring, pore-forming proteins into a liquid-like membrane made of lipids,” Dekker says,.
“DNA molecules can be pulled individually through the pore by applying an electrical voltage across it, and analyzed in much the same way that music is read from an old cassette tape as it is threaded through a player,” he goes on to say.
“One aspect that makes this biological technology especially difficult, however, is the reliance on the fragile lipid support layer. This new hybrid approach is much more robust and suitable to integrate nanopores into devices,” the scientist concludes.