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New technique helps identify multiple DNA regulatory sites

Just as the printing press revolutionized the creation of reading matter, a "nano-printing" technique developed at MIT could enable the mass production of nano-devices currently built one at a time.

The most immediate candidate for this innovation is the DNA microarray, a nano-device used to diagnose and understand genetic illnesses such as Alzheimer's, viral illnesses such as AIDS, and certain types of cancer.

The ability to mass produce these complex devices would make DNA analysis as common and inexpensive as blood testing, and thus greatly accelerate efforts to discover the origins of disease.

The demand for ever-shrinking devices of ever-increasing complexity in areas from biomedicine to information technology has spurred several research efforts toward high-resolution, high-throughput nano-printing techniques. Professor Francesco Stellacci and graduate student Arum Amy Yu, both in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, have developed a printing method that is unmatched in both information content per printing cycle and resolution. They achieved the latter using what Yu calls "nature's most efficient printing technique: the DNA/RNA information transfer."

In the new printing method, called Supramolecular Nano-Stamping (SuNS), single strands of DNA essentially self-assemble upon a surface to duplicate a nano-scale pattern made of their complementary DNA strands. The duplicates are identical to the master and can thus be used as masters themselves. This increases print output exponentially while enabling the reproduction of very complex nano-scale patterns.

One such pattern is found on a DNA microarray, a silicon or glass chip printed with up to 500,000 tiny dots. Each dot comprises multiple DNA molecules of known sequence, i.e. a piece of an individual's genetic code. Scientists use DNA microarrays to discover and analyze a person's DNA or messenger-RNA genetic code. This allows for, say, the early diagnosis of
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