"You could even engineer bacteria to have different surface molecules that you could capitalize on," says Beck.
For instance, it may be possible, the Wisconsin scientists say, to attach microscopic gold particles to the shell of the bacterium, making it more like a nanoscale gold wire.
Hamers believes the new work could be the basis for bringing nanotechnology and biology together in unprecedented ways.
Moreover, the ability to routinely and easily capture and analyze individual microbes will have implications for conventional biotechnology as well. For example, chemical modifications to the electrode traps might make it easier for scientists to retrieve specified cells from a complex mixture.
The work by Hamers' group was funded by the National Science Foundation. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization that manages UW-Madison intellectual property, has applied for patents for the technology.
The paper on this research, ANYL 424, will be presented at 2:45 p.m., Thursday, March 17, at the San Diego Convention Center, Room 27A, during a symposium titled "Bioanalytical Techniques for Detection of Bacteria, Toxins and Proteins."