© Photo courtesy Alek Aksimentiev
DNA interacts with charged graphene and contorts into sequence-specific shapes when the charge is changed.
When Illinois researchers set out to investigate a method to control how DNA moves through a tiny sequencing device, they did not know they were about to witness a display of molecular gymnastics.
Fast, accurate and affordable DNA sequencing is the first step toward personalized medicine. Threading a DNA molecule through a tiny hole, called a nanopore, in a sheet of graphene allows researchers to read the DNA sequence; however, they have limited control over how fast the DNA moves through the pore. In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications
, University of Illinois physics professor Aleksei Aksimentiev and graduate student Manish Shankla applied an electric charge to the graphene sheet, hoping that the DNA would react to the charge in a way that would let them control its movement down to each individual link, or nucleotide, in the DNA chain.
"Ideally, you would want to step the DNA through the nanopore one nucleotide at a time," said Aksimentiev. "Take a measurement and then have another nucleotide in the sensing hole. That's the goal, and it hasn't been realized yet. We show that, to some degree, we can control the process by charging the graphene