Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New material could enhance fast and accurate DNA sequencing


Gene-based personalized medicine has many possibilities for diagnosis and targeted therapy, but one big bottleneck: the expensive and time-consuming DNA-sequencing process.

Now, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have found that nanopores in the material molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) could sequence DNA more accurately, quickly and inexpensively than anything yet available.

A DNA molecule passes through a nanopore in a sheet of molybdenum disulfide, a material that researchers have found to be better than graphene at reading the DNA sequence. | Photo courtesy of Amir Barati Farimani

“One of the big areas in science is to sequence the human genome for under $1,000, the ‘genome-at-home,’” said Narayana Aluru, a professor of mechanical science and engineering at the U. of I. who led the study. “There is now a hunt to find the right material. We’ve used MoS2 for other problems, and we thought, why don’t we try it and see how it does for DNA sequencing?”

As it turns out, MoS2 outperforms all other materials used for nanopore DNA sequencing – even graphene.

A nanopore is a very tiny hole drilled through a thin sheet of material. The pore is just big enough for a DNA molecule to thread through. An electric current drives the DNA through the nanopore, and the fluctuations in the current as the DNA passes through the pore tell the sequence of the DNA, since each of the four letters of the DNA alphabet – A, C, G and T – are slightly different in shape and size.

Most materials used for nanopore DNA sequencing have a sizable flaw: They are too thick. Even a thin sheet of most materials spans multiple links of the DNA chain, making it impossible to accurately determine the exact DNA sequence.

Graphene has become a popular alternative, since it is a sheet made of a single layer of carbon atoms – meaning only one base at a time goes through the nanopore. Unfortunately, graphene has its own set of problems, the biggest being that the DNA sticks to it. The DNA interacting with the graphene introduces a lot of noise that makes it hard to read the current, like a radio station marred by loud static.

MoS2 is also a single-layer sheet, thin enough that only one DNA letter at a time goes through the nanopore. In the study, the Illinois researchers found that DNA does not stick to MoS2, but threads through the pore cleanly and quickly. See an animation online.

“MoS2 is a competitor of graphene in terms of transistors, but we showed here a new functionality of this material by showing that it is capable of biosensing,” said graduate student Amir Barati Farimani, the first author of the paper.

Most exciting for the researchers, the simulations yielded four distinct signals corresponding to the bases in a double-stranded DNA molecule. Other systems have yielded two at best – A/T and C/G – which then require extensive computational analysis to attempt to distinguish A from T and C from G.

The key to the success of the complex MoS2 simulation and analysis was the Blue Waters supercomputer, located at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the U. of I.  

“These are very detailed calculations,” said Aluru, who is also a part of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the U. of I. “They really tell us the physics of the actual mechanisms, and why MoS2 is performing better than other materials. We have those insights now because of this work, which used Blue Waters extensively.”

Now, the researchers are exploring whether they can achieve even greater performance by coupling MoS2 with another material to form a low-cost, fast and accurate DNA sequencing device. 

“The ultimate goal of this research is to make some kind of home-based or personal DNA sequencing device,” Barati Farimani said. “We are on the path to get there, by finding the technologies that can quickly, cheaply and accurately identify the human genome. Having a map of your DNA can help to prevent or detect diseases in the earliest stages of development. If everybody can cheaply sequence so they can know the map of their genetics, they can be much more alert to what goes on in their bodies.”

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation supported this work, published in the journal ACS Nano.

Liz Ahlberg | University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Further information:

Further reports about: DNA MoS2 Technology Waters graphene materials nanopore nanopores problems sequence technologies

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Molecular trigger for Cerebral Cavernous Malformation identified
26.11.2015 | EMBO - excellence in life sciences

nachricht Peering into cell structures where neurodiseases emerge
26.11.2015 | University of Delaware

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Using sphere packing models to explain the structure of forests

26.11.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

Dimensionality transition in a newly created material

26.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images

26.11.2015 | Earth Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>