The work is important because it has the potential to make building the atomic-scale machines of the nanotechnologist far easier. It also may be the basis for a new class of biological sensors capable of near-instantaneous detection of dangerous biological agents such as anthrax.
The approach, reported here today (March 17, 2005) at a meeting of the American Chemical Society, suggests that microbes can serve as forms for complicated nanoscale structures, perhaps obviating, in part, the need for the tedious and time-consuming construction of devices at the smallest scale.
The work is also scheduled to appear in the April issue of the journal Nano Letters.
"One of the great challenges of nanotechnology remains the assembly of nanoscale objects into more complex systems," says Robert Hamers, a UW-Madison professor of chemistry and the senior author of the new reports. "We think that bacteria and other small biological systems can be used as templates for fabricating even more complex systems."
Toward that end, Hamers and his UW-Madison colleagues Joseph Beck, Lu Shang and Matthew Marcus, have developed a system in which living microbes, notably bacteria, are guided, one at a time, down a channel to a pair of electrodes barely a germ's length apart. Slipping between the electrodes, the microbes, in effect, become electrical "junctions," giving researchers the ability to capture, interrogate and release bacterial cells one by one. Built into a sensor, such a capability would enable real-time detection of dangerous biological agents, including anthrax and other microbial pathogens.
"The results here are significant because while there has been much attention paid to the ability to manipulate na
Contact: Robert J. Hamers
University of Wisconsin-Madison