Nano-scale semiconductor tech boosts single-molecule analysis -

The ability to analyse single biological cells has recieved a boost with a sensor based on nano-scale semiconductor technology.

Reserachers at the Technische Universität München (TUM) have developed the single-molecule nanopore sensor, and have been able to enhance the selectivity greatly.

Scientists are attempting to analyse what is going on with proteins at the biological molecular level by targeting specific, individual molecules. They want to be able to do so without having to modify them with biochemical labels, but to detect them independently instead.

This would allow major benefits in pharmaceutical  and medical research, pairing up with work conducted into genomics.  It could also mean the detection of biological warfare agents apparently.

The method used to do this is to create an artificial nanopore membrane which can detect the presence of a passing molecule through its electrical disturbance.   By fine tuning it, it is possible to detect a specific molecule without having to compromise on the sensitivity of equipment. Apparently this has prohibited working systems in the past, but the team reckons they have now cracked it.

According to the researchers, the use of viable nanopores means that single molecule experiments can be run with equipment that costs only a few thousand euros.

If the technology is further commercialised this could mean that you could perform single molecule detection in your own home for the price of a PC, they say, if the fancy took you.