A new era could be opened in personal medicine by using a novel technique that could serve to sequence a human genome for just 1000 dollars or even less.
Researchers at the University of Illinois, through utilizing computer simulations, have demonstrated a strategy for sequencing DNA by driving the molecule back and forth through a nanopore capacitor in a semiconductor chip.
This technique could lead to a device that would make it possible to read human genomes quickly and affordably, with a cost not exceeding 100 dollars-the price most insurance companies are willing to pay
This would in turn, make it possible to precisely diagnose the cause of many diseases and design drugs and treatment procedures to the genetic make-up of an individual.
"Despite the tremendous interest in using nanopores for sequencing DNA, it was unclear how, exactly, nanopores could be used to read the DNA sequence. We now describe one such method," said U. of I. physics professor Aleksei Aksimentiev who also is a researcher at the Beckman Institute.
He addd: "Through molecular dynamics simulations, we demonstrate that back-and-forth motion of a DNA molecule in a nanopore capacitor 1 nanometer in diameter produces an electrostatic fingerprint that can be used to read the genetic sequence.
In the researchers' simulations, performed at the university's National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the nanopore capacitor comprises two conducting layers of doped silicon, separated by an insulating layer of silicon dioxide.
When DNA passes through the nanopore, the molecule's electric field induces sequence-specific electrostatic potentials that can be detected at the top and bottom layers of the capacitor membrane.
Aksimentiev said that a semiconductor device capable of reading the electrostatic potentials and decoding the genetic sequence is within the grasp of current technology.
"Nanometer pores in electronic membranes have been manufactured, and the voltage signals resulting from DNA movement through such pores have been recorded," he said.
However, according to Aksimentiev, the next big challenge, is to minimize noise in the system, and reduce the speed of DNA molecules moving through the pore.
The researchers described the technique in a paper accepted for publication in the journal Nano Letters.