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DNA separation by entropic force offers better resolution

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Cornell University researchers have demonstrated a novel method of separating DNA molecules by length. The technique might eventually be used to create chips or other microscopic devices to automate and speed up gene sequencing and DNA fingerprinting.

The method, which uses a previously discovered entropic recoil force, has better resolution -- that is, better ability to distinguish different lengths -- than others tried so far, the researchers say. They separated DNA strands of two different lengths, using their own nanofabricated device, and demonstrated that modifications would make it possible to separate strands of many different lengths.

A description of the experiment is scheduled to be published in the Oct. 1, 2002, issue of the journal Analytical Chemistry by graduate student Mario Cabodi, postdoctoral researcher Stephen Turner and Harold Craighead, the C.W. Lake Jr. Professor of Productivity.

The traditional method of separating DNA is gel electrophoresis, in which a strand is cut into many pieces and passed through a porous gel, where shorter lengths will move faster and farther than longer ones. From the distribution of the fragments, information about the genetic content can be determined. Researchers at Cornell and elsewhere have been experimenting with a variety of devices that replace the porous gel with microscopic sieves made by the same techniques used to manufacture electronic circuits.

Previously, Turner, Cabodi and Craighead studied the physics governing the movement of molecules through these sieves. Ordinarily, a long chain DNA molecule in liquid will clump into a roughly spherical shape, and to move through a sieve it must uncoil and slide in lengthwise. The researchers found that this movement involves an entropic force which causes DNA molecules that are only partially within a sieve to withdraw when the force pulling them in -- an electric field -- is removed. The effect is similar to a slippe
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Contact: Bill Steele
ws21@cornell.edu
607-255-7164
Cornell University News Service
23-Sep-2002


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