Re: Nanotech in action
Mime-Version: 1.0 (NeXT Mail 3.3 v118.2)
From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Fri, 6 Jun 97 01:06:54 -0700
Subject: Re: Nanotech in action
[Okay, where's the 4/1/XX date stamp? -psl]
Forwarded-by: Larry Yaeger <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At <http://www.merc.com/stories/cgi/story.cgi?id=3291490-e54> one finds
this article (copied without permission):
02:04 AM ET 06/05/97
Tiny Australian machine gives answers in a nano
CANBERRA, June 5 (Reuter) - Australian scientists, after a decade of secret
research, on Thursday unveiled a microscopic machine that could
revolutionise disease diagnosis and drug testing.
The nanomachine is a tiny biosensor that combines biology and physics
-- with moving parts the size of molecules -- to detect molecules and
identify minute amounts of substances.
Research team leader Bruce Cornell said the sensitive device can
detect a range of substances, including drugs, hormones, viruses and
pesticides and can identify gene sequences.
``This biosensor is a unique blend of the ability of biology to
identify individual types of molecule in complex mixtures, with the speed,
convenience and low cost of microelectronics,'' Cornell, from the
Cooperative Research Centre for Molecular Engineering and Technology, said
in a statement.
The sensor, tipped to be a billion dollar bonanza for Australia when
it goes into commercial production in about two years, is the world's first
functioning nanomachine -- machines with parts measured in billionths of a
Cornell and his team say it is so sensitive that if one sugar cube was
thrown into Australia's world famous Sydney Harbour, it could measure the
increased sugar content.
The device will allow simple detection of almost all diseases within
minutes from a small blood or saliva sample -- ending the need to wait days
for pathology test results.
It can also identify minute amounts of drugs and bacteria. ``We are
designing them to be very simple to operate, we've even had corporate
lawyers working them,'' said Cornell.
Using a technique described as ``biology on a stick,'' the machine
essentially copies the body's sensing mechanisms by chemically tethering a
synthetic membrane onto a piece of plastic.
The central component is a tiny electrical switch, 1.5 billionths of a
metre in size, which acts as an ion-channel.
``Our technology converts immediately the biochemistry into an
electrical signal,'' Cornell said.
The nanomachine is inserted into a hand-held unit, which holds the
sample and interprets the nanomachine's electronic signals.
The nanomachines are also expected to be used to monitor food safety
and quality and environmental monitoring.
This may be legit, and pretty significant, despite the fact that the
article is a bit giddy in its reporting, and may not have all its facts in
a row. An Alta Vista search turned up only one additional mention of
"Bruce Cornell" and "molecular" and "engineering":
Which is a one-pager on an Australian Membrane and Biotechnology Research
Institute (AMBRI) program affiliated with the aforementioned Cooperative
Research Centre. It was formed in 1992 (April 1--no comment) and appears
to be at least partially publically funded. And according to:
Bruce Cornell gave a talk on AMBRI at something called MANUfesto, last
February. So that "decade of secret research" would seem to be a bit much.
Still quite an amazing acheivement if the "biology" part of the "stick" can
be tailored to sense all the different specific biochemical compounds they
suggest. Can't help but wonder if it's one-sensor-one-compound, somehow
reconfigurable on the fly (to make it possible to sweep for a series of
compounds with a single sensor), or if multiple different sensors can be
grouped together (an alternate way to search for multiple compounds). The
diagnostic possibilities are quite exciting, as is that mention of gene
If anybody comes across a technical article, or at least some reportage
with a bit more substance to it, I'd love to hear about it.
© 1997 Peter Langston