The sieve makes it possible to screen proteins by specific size and shape. In contrast, the current technique used for separating proteins, gel electrophoresis, is time-consuming and less predictable. Pore sizes in the gels vary, and the process itself is not well understood by scientists.
The performance of the researchers' current one-dimensional sieves matches the state-of-the-art speed of one-dimensional gels, but Han said the sieve's performance can be improved greatly.
"This device can replace gels and give us an ideal physical platform to investigate Ogston sieving," Fu said. The new sieves also potentially could be used to replace 2D gels in the process of discovering disease biomarkers, as well as to learn more about disease.