Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

'Critical baby step' taken for spying life on a molecular scale

Date:
May 19, 2011
Source:
Institute of Physics
Summary:
The ability to image single biological molecules in a living cell is something that has long eluded researchers. However, a novel technique -- using the structure of diamond -- may well be able to do this and potentially provide a tool for diagnosing, and eventually developing a treatment for, hard-to-cure diseases such as cancer.

The ability to image single biological molecules in a living cell is something that has long eluded researchers; however, a novel technique, using the structure of diamond, may well be able to do this and potentially provide a tool for diagnosing, and eventually developing a treatment for, hard-to-cure diseases such as cancer.

In a study published May 19 in the Institute of Physics and the German Physical Society's New Journal of Physics, researchers have developed a technique, exploiting a specific defect in the lattice structure of diamond, to externally detect the spins of individual molecules.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has already taken advantage of a molecule's spin to give clear snapshots of organs and tissue within the human body, however to get a more detailed insight into the workings of disease, the imaging scale must be brought down to individual biomolecules, and captured whilst the cells are still alive.

Co-lead author Professor Phillip Hemmer, Electrical & Computer Engineering, Texas A&M University, said, "Many conditions, such as cancer and aging, have their roots at the molecular scale. Therefore if we could somehow develop a tool that would allow us to do magnetic resonance imaging of individual biomolecules in a living cell then we would have a powerful new tool for diagnosing and eventually developing cures for such stubborn diseases."

To do this, the researchers, from Professor Joerg Wrachtrup's group at the University of Stuttgart and Texas A&M University, used a constructed defect in the structure of diamond called a nitrogen vacancy (NV) -- a position within the lattice structure where one of the carbon atoms is replaced with a nitrogen atom.

Instead of bonding to four other carbon atoms, the nitrogen atom only bonds to three carbon atoms leaving a spare pair of electrons, acting as one of the strongest magnets on an atomic scale.

The most important characteristic of a diamond NV is that it has an optical readout -- it emits bright red light when excited by a laser, which is dependent on which way the magnet is pointing.

The researchers found that if an external spin is placed close to the NV it will cause the magnet to point in a different direction, therefore changing the amount of light emitted by it.

This change of light can be used to gauge which way the external molecule is spinning and therefore create a one-dimensional image of the external spin. If combined with additional knowledge of the surface, or a second NV nearby, a more detailed image with additional dimensions could be had.

To test this theory, nitrogen was implanted into a sample of diamond in order to produce the necessary NVs. External molecules were brought to the surface of the diamond, using several chemical interactions, for their spins to be analyzed.

Spins that exist within the diamond structure itself have already been modelled, so to test that the spins were indeed external, the researchers chemically cleaned the diamond surface and performed the analysis again to prove that the spins had been washed away.

Professor Hemmer continued, "Currently, biological interactions are deduced mostly by looking at large ensembles. In this case you are looking only at statistical averages and details of the interaction which are not always clear. Often the data is taken after killing the cell and spreading its contents onto a gene chip, so it is like looking at snapshots in time when you really want to see the whole movie."

"Clearly there is much work to be done before we can, if ever, reach our long-term goal of spying on the inner workings of life on the molecular scale. But we have to learn to walk before we can run, and this breakthrough represents one of the first critical baby steps."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Institute of Physics. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Grotz et al. Sensing external spins with NV diamond. New Journal of Physics, 2011; [link]

Cite This Page:

Institute of Physics. "'Critical baby step' taken for spying life on a molecular scale." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 May 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518191519.htm>.
Institute of Physics. (2011, May 19). 'Critical baby step' taken for spying life on a molecular scale. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518191519.htm
Institute of Physics. "'Critical baby step' taken for spying life on a molecular scale." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518191519.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Matter & Energy News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Thanks, Marty McFly! Hoverboards Could Be Coming In 2015

Thanks, Marty McFly! Hoverboards Could Be Coming In 2015

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) If you've ever watched "Back to the Future Part II" and wanted to get your hands on a hoverboard, well, you might soon be in luck. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) Researchers in South Korea are developing a robotic pilot that could potentially replace humans in the cockpit. Unlike drones and autopilot programs which are configured for specific aircraft, the robots' humanoid design will allow it to fly any type of plane with no additional sensors. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Graphene Paint Offers Rust-Free Future

Graphene Paint Offers Rust-Free Future

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) British scientists have developed a prototype graphene paint that can make coatings which are resistant to liquids, gases, and chemicals. The team says the paint could have a variety of uses, from stopping ships rusting to keeping food fresher for longer. Jim Drury reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins