With Photonic PCR you can copy DNA million times within less than 5 minutes - instead of hours that it takes today. It works by shooting light at an ultra-thin film of gold, which energizes the electrons floating at the surface of the film. The excited electrons start oscillating and are heating up the DNA. As soon as the light turns off, they relax again, and the heating stops.
The researchers from BioPoets Lab at UC Berkeley
want to build a cell-phone sized device that works with batteries, so copying DNA can be done everywhere.
Technology in detail
To increase the speed of thermal cycling, Lee and his team took advantage of plasmonics
(interaction between light and free electrons on a metal’s surface). When exposed to light, the free electrons get excited and begin to oscillate, generating heat. Once the light is off, the oscillations and the heating stop. Gold is a popular metal for this plasmonic photothermal heating because it is so efficient at absorbing light. It also does not react with biological material.
A 120 nanometers thick gold plate was placed on a plastic chip with small wells that hold the DNA and PCR ingredients. The heat comes from the LED lights beneath. Lead author Jun Ho Son chose the LED light for its low power consumption: It requires only two or three watts, compared with the several hundred watts required by a conventional PCR machine. Moreover, the team wants to focus on using existing off-the-shelf LED.
The researchers were able to cycle from 131 degrees to 203 degrees Fahrenheit 30 times in less than five minutes. The research was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation with $ 1.5m.
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