PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] Nanopores may one day lead a revolution in DNA sequencing. By sliding DNA molecules one at a time through tiny holes in a thin membrane, it may be possible to decode long stretches of DNA at lightning speeds. Scientists, however, haven't quite figured out the physics of how polymer strands like DNA interact with nanopores. Now, with the help of a particular type of virus, researchers from Brown University have shed new light on this nanoscale physics.
"What got us interested in this was that everybody in the field studied DNA and developed models for how they interact with nanopores," said Derek Stein, associate professor of physics and engineering at Brown who directed the research. "But even the most basic things you would hope models would predict starting from the basic properties of DNA you couldn't do it. The only way to break out of that rut was to study something different."
The findings, published today in Nature Communications, might not only help in the development of nanopore devices for DNA sequencing, they could also lead to a new way of detecting dangerous pathogens.
Straightening out the physics
The concept behind nanopore sequencing is fairly simple. A hole just a few billionths of a meter wide is poked in a membrane separating two pools of salty water. An electric current is applied to the system, which occasionally snares a charged DNA strand and whips it through the pore a phenomenon called translocation. When a molecule translocates, it causes detectable variations in the electric current across the pore. By looking carefully at those variations in current, scientists may be able to distinguish individual nucleotides the A's, C's, G's and T's coded in DNA molecules.
The first commercially available nanopore sequencers may only be a few years away, but despite advances in the field, surprisingly little is known about the basic physics involved
|Contact: Kevin Stacey|