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Researchers Create DNA-Based Sensors for Nano-Tongues and Nano-Noses

Nano-sized carbon tubes coated with strands of DNA can create tiny sensors with abilities to detect odors and tastes, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Monell Chemical Sciences Center. Their findings are published in the current issue of the journal Nano Letters, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

According to the researchers, arrays of these nanosensors could detect molecules on the order of one part per million, akin to finding a one-second play amid 278 hours of baseball footage or a single person in Times Square on New Years' Eve. In the report, the researchers tested the nanosensors on five different chemical odorants, including methanol and dinitrotoluene, or DNT, a common chemical that is also frequently a component of military-grade explosives. The nanosensors could sniff molecules out of the air or taste them in a liquid, suggesting applications ranging from domestic security to medical detectors.

"What we have here is a hybrid of two molecules that are extremely sensitive to outside signals: single stranded DNA, which serves as the 'detector,' and a carbon nanotube, which functions as 'transmitter,'" said A. T. Charlie Johnson, associate professor in Penn's Department of Physics and Astronomy. "Put the two together and they become an extremely versatile type of sensor, capable of finding tiny amounts of a specific molecule."

Given the size of such sensors each carbon nanotube is about a billionth of a meter wide, Johnson and his colleagues believe arrays of these sensors could serve as passive detection systems in almost any location. The sensor surface is also self-regenerating, with each sensor lasting for more than 50 exposures to the targeted substances, which means they would not need to be replaced frequently.

The specificity of single-stranded DNA is what makes these sensors so capable. These biomolecules can be engineered, in a process called directed evolution, to recognize a
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Source:University of Pennsylvania


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