Nanopores could revolutionize neuroscience and medical diagnosis

Li-Qun “Andrew” Gu, a dedicated researcher at the University of Missouri for over two decades, has been fervently working on intricate diagnostic tools at the nanoscale to tackle life science challenges. His recent breakthrough, alongside a team of scientists, involves utilizing nanopores—minuscule holes at the nanometer scale—to propel advancements in neuroscience and other medical domains.

The novel method employs aptamers, strands of DNA or RNA, adept at binding selectively to specific targets. This innovation allows precise identification of substances using nanopores, shedding light on individual molecular interactions. Kevin Gillis, co-author of the study and a professor in the Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Department, elaborates that these interactions are detected through minute ion currents passing through the nanopore.

The ability of nanopores to sense individual molecules by acting as amplifiers is fascinating. A single molecule’s binding can obstruct the passage of countless ions through the pore, leading to changes in current that signify molecular movement or binding. Gillis is astonished by the ingenuity of researchers like Gu, who continually discover fresh ways to harness nanopores for enhanced understanding of molecular interactions at the smallest scale.

This approach aligns with the emerging field of synthetic biology, which seeks to replicate fundamental biological functions synthetically, ultimately aiding in unraveling the core principles of life. The study, titled “Real-time label-free detection of dynamic aptamer–small molecule interactions using a nanopore nucleic acid conformational sensor,” was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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