ORNL, Yale Develop New Concept for Low Cost DNA Sequencing

Researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Yale University have developed a new concept for use in high-speed genomic sequencing devices that may have the potential to substantially drive down costs.

The research was supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) as part of a nearly decade-long drive drive to bring the cost of sequencing a human genome down to $1,000. Lowering the cost of the technology would enable genomic sequencing to be used in everyday clinical practice for medical treatments and prevention of health issues.

The researchers used theory and computation, validated by experiments, to prove that a charged micro or nano particle, such as a DNA segment, can be confined in an “aqueous virtual pore.” They created nanopores, or extremely narrow channels of water, with a radio-frequency electric field capable of trapping segments of DNA and other biomolecules.

The water provides a stable environment for DNA integrity while the virtual “walls” allow DNA to move through the nanopore without interacting with physical walls. As an added advantage, scientists can control the size and stability of a virtual nanopore by external electric fields, something they cannot do with a physical nanopore. While a single DNA polymer is translocated through one of these sythetic “channels” the researchers can use the physical detection of single molecules to read electric signlas that identify DNA bases.

To help control and localize DNA, ORNL and Yale scientists created the aqueous nanopore embedded in water based on a linear Paul trap – a device that traps particles in an oscillating electric field – and experimentally proved its trapping functionality. There were some doubts that a charged micro or nano particle could be confined by the quadrupole oscillating electric field of the Paul trap when filled by aqueous solvent, but ORNL computation and Yale experiments prove that water actually helps stabilize trapping mechanisms, making sequencing methods more feasible.

The research was additionally supported with supercomputing hours on Kraken, the National Science Foundation’s National Institute for Computational Sciences supercomputer.

The research findings entitled “Tunable Aqueous Virtual Micropore” were recently published under lead author Jae Hyun Park in the quarterly scientific journal Small.

Image: This representation of the Paul trap function illustrates how an oscillating electric field traps a particle (Courtesy of ORNL).

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