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A Flash Of Light Turns Graphene Into A Biosensor

September 23, 2009
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
After learning how DNA interacts with the novel nanomaterial graphene, researchers propose a DNA-graphene nanoscaffold be used as a biosensor to diagnose diseases, detect toxins in tainted food and detect pathogens in biological weapons, among other applications.

Biomedical researchers suspect graphene, a novel nanomaterial made of sheets of single carbon atoms, would be useful in a variety of applications. But no one had studied the interaction between graphene and DNA, the building block of all living things.

To learn more, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Zhiwen Tang, Yuehe Lin and colleagues from both PNNL and Princeton University built nanostructures of graphene and DNA. They attached a fluorescent molecule to the DNA to track the interaction.

Tests showed that the fluorescence dimmed significantly when single-stranded DNA rested on graphene, but that double-stranded DNA only darkened slightly – an indication that single-stranded DNA had a stronger interaction with graphene than its double-stranded cousin.

The researchers then examined whether they could take advantage of the difference in fluorescence and binding. When they added complementary DNA to single-stranded DNA-graphene structures, they found the fluorescence glowed anew. This suggested the two DNAs intertwined and left the graphene surface as a new molecule.

DNA's ability to turns its fluorescent light switch on and off when near graphene could be used to create a biosensor, the researchers propose. Possible applications for a DNA-graphene biosensor include diagnosing diseases like cancer, detecting toxins in tainted food and detecting pathogens from biological weapons.

Other tests also revealed that single-stranded DNA attached to graphene was less prone to being broken down by enzymes, which makes graphene-DNA structures especially stable. This could lead to drug delivery for gene therapy.

Tang will discuss this research and some of its possible applications in medicine, food safety and biodefense at the 2009 Micro Nano Breakthrough Conference, which runs Sept. 21-23 in Portland, Ore. (see:

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DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "A Flash Of Light Turns Graphene Into A Biosensor." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2009. <>.
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. (2009, September 23). A Flash Of Light Turns Graphene Into A Biosensor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 23, 2017 from
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "A Flash Of Light Turns Graphene Into A Biosensor." ScienceDaily. (accessed May 23, 2017).