First step toward electronic DNA sequencing: Translocation through graphene nanopores

July 27, 2010

Nanoscale platform to electrically detect single DNA molecules. Electric fields push tiny DNA strands through atomically-thin graphene nanopores that ultimately may sequence DNA bases by their unique electrical signature. (Art: Robert Johnson)

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a new, carbon-based nanoscale platform to electrically detect single DNA molecules.

Using electric fields, the tiny DNA strands are pushed through nanoscale-sized, atomically thin pores in a graphene nanopore platform that ultimately may be important for fast electronic sequencing of the four chemical bases of DNA based on their unique electrical signature.

When researchers apply a voltage to chambers of electrolyte solution, it drives ions through the pores. Ion transport is measured as a current flowing from the voltage source. DNA molecules, inserted into the electrolyte, can be driven single file through such nanopores.

As the molecules translocate, they block the flow of ions and are detected as a drop in the measured current.  Because the four DNA bases block the current differently, graphene nanopores with sub-nanometer thickness may provide a way to distinguish among bases, realizing a low-cost, high-throughput DNA sequencing technique.

To increase the robustness of graphene nanopore devices, Penn researchers also deposited an ultrathin layer, only a few atomic layers thick, of titanium oxide on the membrane which further generated a cleaner, more easily wettable surface that allows the DNA to go through it more easily. Although graphene-only nanopores can be used for translocating DNA, coating the graphene membranes with a layer of oxide consistently reduced the nanopore noise level and at the same time improved the robustness of the device.

Because of the ultrathin nature of the graphene pores, researchers were able to detect a larger increase in the magnitude of the translocation signals compared to previous solid state nanopores made in silicon nitride.

The article is published in the current issue of Nano Letters.

More info: University of Pennsylvania news