Bio-Molecular Nano-Devices for Chemical and Biological Threat Detection

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DARPA’s MOLDICE Program is developing a high sensitivity, low false-positive chemical and biological sensor array for the detection of chemical and biological threats.  The technology can potentially detect ionic compounds, DNA, RNA, and other organic molecules by stochastic sensing as they pass through a single ionic conducting channel in an engineered nano-porous membrane.  The sensor array is innovative in the way that it detects these analytes.  Rather than having an individual sensor for each type of analyte, a single sensor can detect any of these analytes by their individual electrical signatures.  Essentially each of the analytes, whether it be DNA, RNA, or an organic molexcule, will emit a unique eletrcial signature as it passes through the membrane.

The membranes are antifouling as well since the signature produced from a fouling event would not be characteristic of an analyte.  An array could be composed of a number of sensors, each designed to detect a certain group of analytes and their respective concentrations, making the array a powerful first response tool to a biological or chemical threat.  Additionally, the ability for the sensors to detect multiple analytes concurrently will ease the demands for protein engineering, reducing costs in the long-term.

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This technology improves upon existing biochemical sensors by using stochastic sensing to identify analytes and their respective concentrations.

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The technology has the potential to advance technology in sensing biological and chemical threats as well as enhance pharmaceutical screening, creating a safer human environment and improving overall security and environmental quality.

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All of the risks in this technology lie in the societal value of the technology itself. The technology is made from biologically benign materials and poses little or no risk for interaction with humans or the environment. Who controls this technology and the accessibility of this technology creates risk to those with little control in the technology. The risks may be seen in how this type of sensing and the technology that comes of these advances changes society and the human condition.

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