DNA Passing Through Graphene Nanopore As sad as it sounds, I’m a big fan of graphene. This 1nm thick single layer of carbon atoms takes on interesting properties that graphite (which is made up of lots of layers of graphene) doesn’t have. Every week there seems to be advances in different applications: ultrafast transistors, chemical sensors or touch screen technologies.
Over the past few months several papers have been detailing ways in which graphene can be used to translocate DNA, or to put it simply, pull it through a hole (as shown in the above picture). The latest work, published in Nature, started by using a layer of graphene as a membrane to separate two liquid reservoirs, demonstrating that the graphene can stop the flow of ions across it when a voltage is applied. When a nanoscale hole is present ions can pass through the membrane, with flow increasing as the size of the hole increases, meaning an increase in electric current that can measured. (Imagine a bucket divided in two by a plastic sheet: if the top half of the bucket is filled with water, it cannot flow to the bottom half because of the sheet, but if the sheet has a puncture the water can flow to the bottom half and a bigger hole results in a bigger flow of water).
It’s this property that may allow cheap DNA sequencing, an area that is always looking for ways to bring the cost of the process down. DNA is negatively charged so would be dragged through the hole, the same as other charged molecules. As it does the bases on the DNA partially blocks the hole meaning the rate of the smaller ions flowing through the hole changes. These changes in current might be used to identify the bases passing through the hole: each base on a strand of DNA (A, C, G or T) blocks the hole to a different extent, therefore changing the current.
At the moment each base takes about 10 nanoseconds to pass through the hole, that is too quick to measure a change in current, so one of the next tasks is to slow DNA translocation down. Another task is to be able to measure the minute changes in current over background noise. If these can be solved, then it might be possible to achieve relatively cheap genome sequencing.
Read more at ScienceDaily or PhysicsWorld
‘Graphene as a subnanometre trans-electrode membrane’ S. Garaj et al. Nature 467, 190-193 (2010)
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