Biological Large Scale Integration
published: Jan. 6, 2014, recorded: February 2007, views: 2277
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Though Stephen Quake’s research is confined to the smallest of scales, his achievements have already made a large impact on the study of biology. Quake’s area of microfluidics involves fabricating tiny devices akin to those a plumber uses, but useful on the molecular level. Quake modestly describes his “plumbing tools” as “very simple stuff, not rocket science,” but these mini valves and chambers, which enable him to manipulate the behaviors of fluids in minute volumes, are already proving useful in some of the toughest problems of bioscience.
Quake has fashioned microfluidic technology to analyze DNA sequences in a large-scale way, and to determine protein structure. Borrowing from computer engineering, Quake uses nanoliter amounts of fluids on chips in order to grow protein crystals. These new methods allow for much finer control and manipulation of protein crystal growth than conventional structural biology methods. His lab has figured out not only how to tie single DNA molecules into knots, but how to sequence them. Confronting the limits of conventional microscopy, Quake’s lab “stumbled upon the discovery of small colloidal particles that act as microlenses.” These tiny beads concentrate light and provide a “higher effective aperture, which works phenomenally well.” Now as they automate their miniature DNA and protein factories for mass production, they can observe their work in real time.
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