Having a large number of sensors available in a single device could broaden the application of the sensors from pure organic molecules such as the ones used in the tests to the many mixtures of molecules often encountered outside the laboratory.
Outside the lab is where the researchers see the DNA sensors being used most effectively. They hope to eventually pair their sensors with some type of portable device that would contain an inexpensive fluorescence microscope, which Kool says a number of other laboratories are already working on. One example called the "CellScope" was recently developed at the University of California-Berkeley.
The researchers still need to determine how small a quantity of any given substance the DNA sensors can detect.
"Another of our long-term goals is to print these sensors on plastic, and if the spots were big enough to see, you could see the color changes," Kool said. "You could hold a black light over the sensor and read the response. Then you could match up the color of the sensor with a key of some sort and say, 'Ah, this sensor best compares with this color on the key this milk is about to go sour.'"
Kool said it might even be possible, with more research, to use the DNA sensors in liquids.
"To me, the most intriguing possibility is smelling differences that are biologically important," Kool said. "It could be smelling differences in cells that are related to disease or sensing toxins in the environment. Those are probably the most likely applications in the near future.
"We want to sense everything," Kool said
|Contact: Louis Bergeron|