The pocket laboratory

December 20, 2004

Made in Germany, the world’s first fully electric biochip can quickly, reliably and automatically detect pathogens or residual traces of antibiotics. For this development, the president of the Federal Republic awarded the German Future Prize to three researchers.
Is it influenza, or only a bad cold with a fever? An instant test gives the physician the answer. He simply puts a few drops of the patient’s blood on an analyzer the size of a credit card, and just a few minutes later the doctor knows if his patient is suffering from genuine influenza. The system also tells him which medicine will be most effective for the sufferer and what the dosage should be.

Right now, this kind of high-speed diagnosis is still a thing of the future. But the development of an all-electric biochip has laid an important foundation for the pocket-sized laboratory. Sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research BMBF, Rainer Hintsche of the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology ISIT has spent the past fifteen years developing the scientific foundations of this technology and its potential for applications on the market. This has formed the basis of an ongoing industrial cooperation venture, led by Walter Gumbrecht (Siemens) and Roland Thewes (Infineon Technologies), to establish a platform for the industrial use of electric biochip technology. The German president Horst Köhler awarded the German Future Prize 2004 to the three researchers for their work. The prize, which was presented on November 11, is worth € 250,000.

But how can a chip that is no bigger than a fingernail be an adequate substitute for elaborate tests in a laboratory? The chip holds numerous ultra-fine gold electrodes. Attached to these are various physically separate biomolecules – the receptor molecules. Using the lock-and-key principle, they selectively bind specific gene sequences, a particular protein or traces of antibiotics out of liquid samples. If the counterpart bonds with the receptor molecule, an electric signal is triggered which is registered and analyzed by the integrated electronic measuring equipment. “What we are doing is no different from what happens in nature when molecules meet and bond together,” explains Hintsche, head of the Biotechnical Microsystems department at the ISIT. “We know from allergies how accurately nature can identify certain substances.” These processes are artificially simulated on the silicon chip. This makes the electric biochip a highly accurate sensor for DNA, proteins and small molecules. The first measuring systems, each weighing roughly two kilograms, are already on the market. Before the analyzers will fit neatly into your pocket, however, the researchers have a lot more work to do.

Source: Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

Explore further: Mobile Lab with Bio-Chip Tests Water Quality

Related Stories

Mobile Lab with Bio-Chip Tests Water Quality

June 15, 2010

Researchers at Siemens have developed a portable biochip laboratory system for quickly checking water for pollutants. The tests use the reaction of antibodies to certain hormones, pesticides, antibiotics, or bacteria.

Recommended for you

Researchers design first artificial ribosome

July 29, 2015

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northwestern University have engineered a tethered ribosome that works nearly as well as the authentic cellular component, or organelle, that produces all the proteins ...

Meet the high-performance single-molecule diode

July 29, 2015

A team of researchers from Berkeley Lab and Columbia University has passed a major milestone in molecular electronics with the creation of the world's highest-performance single-molecule diode. Working at Berkeley Lab's Molecular ...

Researchers build bacteria's photosynthetic engine

July 29, 2015

Nearly all life on Earth depends on photosynthesis, the conversion of light energy into chemical energy. Oxygen-producing plants and cyanobacteria perfected this process 2.7 billion years ago. But the first photosynthetic ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.