Using techniques typically reserved for the manufacture of computer chips, the Wisconsin team fabricated a mold for making a rubber template with slits narrow enough to confine single strands of elongated DNA.
The new technique is akin to threading a microscopic needle with a thread of DNA, explains Juan de Pablo, a UW-Madison professor of biomedical engineering and a co-author of the study. The team has a way, he says, of "positioning the DNA molecule right where we want it to be. It is important that we can manipulate it with such fidelity."
The system, says Schwartz, promises bench scientists a convenient and easy way to make large numbers of individual DNA molecules accessible for study. The ability to quickly get lots of molecules lined up for sequencing and analysis, says Schwartz, means entire genomes - for species or individuals - could soon become more accessible to science.
By figuring out a way to take individual DNA molecules and present them in a confined, linear fashion, the genetic information encoded in the arrangement of the base pairs that make up the molecule can be scanned and read like a bar code.