Weve come a long way in chromatography, to the point now where weve been able to separate single molecules, said Yeung, an analytical chemist at Iowa State University. His group has shown that even the same kind of enzyme the bodys construction workers varies in ability from one molecule to another, for example.
Chromatography, which allows researchers to separate and identify components of complicated mixtures, originally used special paper and solutions that would break out compounds into colored bands. Now high-speed filters and computers can detect and quantify a trace of pollutant in a sample of air or the sequence of genetic code in a human gene.
Indeed, it is Yeungs contribution to the Humane Genome Project in the early 1990s, using technology then available, that helped turn it from a 500-year quest into a complete database in less than 10 years.
The basic technique is called capillary electrophoresis which, like previous technology, uses an electric field to separate and then identify DNA molecules according to their charge and size. Yeung was one of three research teams who developed methods to miniaturize the system, which dissipates heat better and thus allows much higher electric fields and faster identification speeds. His is the method of choice for the second generation of these instruments, however.
Yeung, who spent his boyhood in Hong Kong, remembered first being hooked by chemistry in the eighth grade. I had a chemistry kit then, and I was most intrigued by the colors, how one color could transform into another, he said.
Contact: Sharon Worthy
American Chemical Society