Silicon chips power portable DNA detector

Magnetic sensors are finding their way more and more into biotechnology. The latest use is for devices to detect toxins and bad genes.

A group of scientists out of Stanford have built a silicon chip on the backbone of an array of magnetic sensors and a chip reader that, taken together, can become a portable DNA analysis tool. The use is intended for crime scene investigations or mobile medical labs, they can also be used in a toxin-finding device for use at an airport or high-security facility.

The scientists say that the chip and sensor device are no larger than a shoebox, which makes them eminently portable. The chip has more than 1,000 sensors, each of which has a copper spacer sandwiched by a pair of magnetic layers. A polymer film coating spread onto the device makes it a DNA detector. Surprising no one, the scientists also said that magnetic nanoparticles were involved in the construction of the device.

The technology involved is successful on a very small scale in that it has detected a certain strand of DNA. More work needs to be done before the garden variety device is upon us.


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