Mass is a fundamental physical property common to all substances. Accurate measurements of mass are critical for a broad range of investigations, but at the scale of single molecules, such sensitive detections are notoriously tricky, laborious and expensive.
Nongjian (NJ) Tao and his colleagues at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute are developing a clever way to perform useful analyses of single molecules, including precise measurements of mass as well as of the binding affinity of these particles. The technique will find diverse applications in such areas as pharmaceutical drug screening, analysis of single cells, food safety, environmental science, biomedical research and clinical diagnosis.
A recent 4-year, $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation will enable Tao's group to build, test and further refine the mass detection method, which makes use of molecular oscillators. Oscillators are essential components found in everyday devices such as clocks, computers and radios. They also play a vital role in biological systems, involved in regulatory networks and rhythmic patterns of activity.
According to Tao, "the Keck grant provides us with a great opportunity to address how we can identify a single molecule based on precise measurement of its mass, and study its affinity properties without using labels. This capability will overcome the limitations of the current mass spectroscopy and immunoassay technologies for detection and functional analysis of molecules."
Until now, measurements of mass at the molecular scale have often been performed using elaborate and costly devices known as mass spectrometers, in which the mass to charge ratio of a molecule is detected after it has been ionized. The technique has been an enormous boon to science, allowing for detailed analysis of proteins, the identification of biomarkers for disease diagnosis, monitoring of environmental toxins, and chemical agent screening.<
|Contact: Joseph Caspermeyer|
Arizona State University