Science & Tech

Seeing the hole truth

1 min read

Small holes give a big view of genes

Folding is a big deal in biology. It not only changes a molecule’s shape but its function. Take the proteins made by genes. Folded one way, they can activate processes necessary for a healthy life. Folded another way, they can trigger the wild cell growth known as cancer. Now, using holes as tiny as 30 atoms across, Harvard scientists have invented a technique that allows them to view DNA strands folding. “These tiny holes comprise a new kind of microscope, one that gives us a fantastic capability to look at things on an atomic scale,” says Jene Golovchenko, a Harvard professor of physics and applied physics, who leads the research. “This gives us new eyes with which to learn new things.” An important goal of the project, Golovchenko notes, is to build devices that can do rapid gene sequencing. Instead of spending billions of dollars and years of time, he envisions inexpensive devices in a doctor’s office that read your genetic blueprints like a ticker tape. Doctors could prescribe medicines and lifestyle changes that exactly suit your individual genome, not the average genome of a human.