Engineers at The University of Texas at Dallas have used advanced techniques to make the material graphene small enough to read DNA.
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Shrinking the size of a graphene pore to less than one nanometer – small enough to thread a DNA strand – opens the possibility of using graphene as a low-cost tool to sequence DNA.
The first reading, or sequencing, of human DNA by the international scientific research group known as the Human Genome Project cost about $2.7 billion. Engineers have been researching alternative nanomaterials materials that can thread DNA strands to reduce the cost to less than $1,000 per person.
It was demonstrated in 2004 that graphite could be changed into a sheet of bonded carbon atoms called graphene, which is believed to be the strongest material ever measured. Because graphene is thin and strong, researchers have searched for ways to control its pore size. They have not had much success. A nanoscale sensor made of graphene could be integrated with existing silicon-based electronics that are very advanced and yet cheap, to reduce costs.
In this study, the research team manipulated the size of the nanopore by using an electron beam from an advanced electron microscope and in-situ heating up to 1200 degree Celsius temperature.
Now that researchers know the pore size can be controlled, the next step in their research will be to build a prototype device.
The study was funded by the Southwest Academy of Nanoelectronics, Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the World Class University Program.