Mass.--Just as the printing press revolutionized
the creation of reading matter, a "nano-printing" technique
developed at MIT could enable the mass production
of nano-devices currently built one at a time.
The most immediate candidate for this innovation
is the DNA microarray, a nano-device used to diagnose
and understand genetic illnesses such as Alzheimer's,
viral illnesses such as AIDS, and certain types of
cancer. The ability to mass produce these complex
devices would make DNA analysis as common and inexpensive
as blood testing, and thus greatly accelerate efforts
to discover the origins of disease.
demand for ever-shrinking devices of ever-increasing
complexity in areas from biomedicine to information
technology has spurred several research efforts
toward high-resolution, high-throughput nano-printing
techniques. Now researchers led by Professor Francesco
Stellacci of the Department of Materials Science
and Engineering have developed a printing method
that is unmatched in both information content per
printing cycle and resolution. They achieved the
latter using what Arum Amy Yu, an MSE graduate
student and member of the research team, calls "nature's
most efficient printing technique: the DNA/RNA
A paper on the work was published in May in the
ASAP online section of the journal Nano Letters.
Stellacci and Yu's coauthors are Professor Henry
Smith and Tim Savas from MIT's Department of Electrical
Engineering and Computer Science and Research Laboratory
of Electronics, and G. Scott Taylor and Anthony Guiseppe-Elie
from Virginia Commonwealth University.
In the new printing method, called Supramolecular
Nano-Stamping (SuNS), single strands of DNA essentially
self-assemble upon a surface to duplicate a nano-scale
pattern made of their complementary DNA strands.
The duplicates are identical to the master and can
thus be used as masters themselves. This increases
print output exponentially while enabling the reproduction
of very complex nano-scale patterns.
One such pattern is found on a DNA microarray, a
silicon or glass chip printed with up to 500,000
tiny dots. Each dot comprises multiple DNA molecules
of known sequence, i.e. a piece of an individual's
genetic code. Scientists use DNA microarrays to discover
and analyze a person's DNA or messenger-RNA genetic
code. This allows for, say, the early diagnosis of
liver cancer, or the prediction of the chances that
a couple will produce a child with a genetic disease.
Frequent, widespread use of these devices is hindered
by the fact that producing them is a painstaking
process that involves at least 400 printing steps
and costs approximately $500 per microarray.
nano-printing method requires only three steps
and could reduce the cost of each microarray to
under $50. "This would completely revolutionize diagnostics," said
Stellacci. With the ability to mass produce these
devices and thus make DNA analysis routine, "we could
know years in advance of cancer, hepatitis, or Alzheimer's."
benefit would be large-scale diagnostics that could
provide useful information about disease. Take
diabetes. "We don't know if it's genetic. The
only way to find out is to test a lot of people," said
Stellacci. "The more we test with microarrays, the
more we know about illnesses, and the more we can
SuNS has applications beyond DNA microarrays. Materials
both organic and inorganic (metal nanoparticles,
for example) can be made to assemble along a pattern
composed of DNA strands. This makes SuNS a versatile
technology that could be used to produce other complex
nano-devices currently manufactured slowly and expensively:
micro- and nano-fluidics channels, single-electron
transistors, optical biosensors and metallic wires,
to name a few.
Stellacci recently received renewed funding from
the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation
to continue work on SuNS. The work is also funded
by the National Science Foundation
Contact: Elizabeth Thomson, MIT News Office
Massachusetts Institute of Technology