SciFi Standby

Bunsenbwogger Zach Kagan returns to share the progress made last week in the wide world of science.

BunsenBwog has previously reported on Columbia Engineering’s attempt to bring CSI technology into reality. Prof. Ken Shepard and his team have been doing this by sequencing DNA by dragging single strands though nanopores. The problem, however, has always been measuring the minute electrical signals that are emitted as the molecule passes though. Previous optical methods used florescent molecules and a wavelength filter, but it takes time for the the photons to be emitted and the signal to be taken, like exposing a photograph. This may only take 10 milliseconds, but with the the number of molecules in a DNA sequence it can add up. The Shepard group’s innovation is designing an integrated circuit and building the nanopore device around a “patch clamp amplifier chip.” This allows for clean measurements mostly free from background electrical noise, able to measure a DNA molecule in a sigle microsecond!

Looks like it’s a week of science callbacks! A month ago researchers at the Columbia University Medical Center published a paper suggesting that Alzheimer’s disease is caused by deformed tau proteins that propagate from neuron to neuron, deforming more proteins along the way. Now our colleagues at Cornell’s medical college have taken Columbia’s findings and used them to create a computer program that models the spread of the abnormal protein across the brain. So far, MRI scans of patient’s brains support the Cornell model, which may allow doctors to design targeted treatments for the brain’s most susceptible areas.