The physicist Richard Feynman gave his famous lecture, There's Always Room at the Bottom, in 1959, considered by many as the conceptual birth of nanotechnology. And ever since, nanotechnology has represented a very promising avenue for all manner of scientific research and application, from drug delivery to hydrogen fuel cell storage. As such it has attracted the attention of some of the world's premier researchers and we're now approaching, if not arriving at, the point where the promise and the payoffs may be beginning to merge:
University of Georgia researchers have employed specially designed nanomaterials to develop a new, label-free DNA detection method that promises to reduce the cost and complexity of common genetic tests.
Their discovery may be used to help clinicians diagnose certain cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma. It can detect the presence of viruses in tissue. And it can be used for a variety of forensic applications, such as paternity testing or crime scene DNA analysis.
Led by Yiping Zhao, professor of physics in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and director of the university's Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center, and Ralph Tripp, Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine, the researchers proved the efficacy of their new DNA analysis method by experimenting with short strands of RNA called microRNA. While their approach may be used on all forms of DNA and RNA, researchers focused on microRNA because it holds great promise as a target for future therapeutics.
Congratulations to Zhao, Tripp, their colleagues and graduate students. It's a great time to be working in the many fields that cross-polinate with this technology. And the neat symmetry that such small scale work has the potential to affect an infinite number of people is an elegant addendum. For an illustration of the scale, the release also included this:
Their experiments used a well-established technique known as surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy, or SERS, which allows scientists to detect specific DNA and RNA sequences by shooting a laser at a sample and measuring the changes in light frequency as it scatters. Zhao and his team placed their sample on top of a special film made of silver nanorods that are 1,000 times finer than the width of a human hair. The nanorods amplify the signal and improve the accuracy of their measurements.