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Sequencing DNA Faster and Cheaper with Nanotechnology

Researchers are developing faster and less expensive methods for performing DNA sequencing, the process of figuring out the order of molecules that determine genetic structure. You know that your DNA predetermines some possible health risk factors. Determining the structure of your DNA can help determine what diseases you might be susceptible to and helps your doctor and you to take preventive measures.

Determining a person’s DNA involves finding the sequence of the molecules, called bases, which connect single strands of DNA into a double helix. Four kinds of molecules are involved: adenine, thymine, guanine, and cytosine. The order of these molecules determines the genetic structure of an individual.

When DNA strands are fed through a nanopore with a voltage difference across the pore, you can identify each molecule in the DNA strand by the amount of current that flows across the nanopore.

The main problem with this method is that the distance between bases in the DNA strands are about half a nanometer. Therefore, if the nanopore is thicker than half a nanometer, you can’t measure individual bases in the DNA strand.

For that reason, researchers must use material that is only one atom thick to make up the nanopore. Graphene sheets come to the rescue. These sheets are only one carbon atom thick, so nanopores made of graphene are thin enough to resolve individual bases in DNA strands.

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