Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Nature nanotechnology


In resource-constrained countries, affordable methodologies for the detection of disease biomarkers at ultralow concentrations can potentially improve the standard of living. However, current strategies for ultrasensitive detection often require sophisticated instruments that may not be available in laboratories with fewer resources. Here, we circumvent this problem by introducing a signal generation mechanism for biosensing that enables the detection of a few molecules of analyte with the naked eye. The enzyme label of an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) controls the growth of gold nanoparticles and generates coloured solutions with distinct tonality when the analyte is present. Prostate specific antigen (PSA) and HIV-1 capsid antigen p24 were detected in whole serum at the ultralow concentration of 1 × 10(-18) g ml(-1). p24 was also detected with the naked eye in the sera of HIV-infected patients showing viral loads undetectable by a gold standard nucleic acid-based test.

Concepts: Antibody, ELISA, ELISPOT, Assay, Gold, HIV test, Immunoassay, Secondary antibody


Owing to its high carrier mobility, conductivity, flexibility and optical transparency, graphene is a versatile material in micro- and macroelectronics. However, the low density of electrochemically active defects in graphene synthesized by chemical vapour deposition limits its application in biosensing. Here, we show that graphene doped with gold and combined with a gold mesh has improved electrochemical activity over bare graphene, sufficient to form a wearable patch for sweat-based diabetes monitoring and feedback therapy. The stretchable device features a serpentine bilayer of gold mesh and gold-doped graphene that forms an efficient electrochemical interface for the stable transfer of electrical signals. The patch consists of a heater, temperature, humidity, glucose and pH sensors and polymeric microneedles that can be thermally activated to deliver drugs transcutaneously. We show that the patch can be thermally actuated to deliver Metformin and reduce blood glucose levels in diabetic mice.

Concepts: Enzyme, Insulin, Diabetes mellitus, Optical fiber, Obesity, Blood sugar, Silicon carbide, Semiconductor device fabrication


Continued progress in high-speed computing depends on breakthroughs in both materials synthesis and device architectures. The performance of logic and memory can be enhanced significantly by introducing a memristor, a two-terminal device with internal resistance that depends on the history of the external bias voltage. State-of-the-art memristors, based on metal-insulator-metal (MIM) structures with insulating oxides, such as TiO2, are limited by a lack of control over the filament formation and external control of the switching voltage. Here, we report a class of memristors based on grain boundaries (GBs) in single-layer MoS2 devices. Specifically, the resistance of GBs emerging from contacts can be easily and repeatedly modulated, with switching ratios up to ∼10(3) and a dynamic negative differential resistance (NDR). Furthermore, the atomically thin nature of MoS2 enables tuning of the set voltage by a third gate terminal in a field-effect geometry, which provides new functionality that is not observed in other known memristive devices.

Concepts: Scientific method, Mathematics, Observation, Titanium dioxide, Memristor


Metamaterials are artificial substances that are structurally engineered to have properties not typically found in nature. To date, almost all metamaterials have been made from inorganic materials such as silicon and copper, which have unusual electromagnetic or acoustic properties that allow them to be used, for example, as invisible cloaks, superlenses or super absorbers for sound. Here, we show that metamaterials with unusual mechanical properties can be prepared using DNA as a building block. We used a polymerase enzyme to elongate DNA chains and weave them non-covalently into a hydrogel. The resulting material, which we term a meta-hydrogel, has liquid-like properties when taken out of water and solid-like properties when in water. Moreover, upon the addition of water, and after complete deformation, the hydrogel can be made to return to its original shape. The meta-hydrogel has a hierarchical internal structure and, as an example of its potential applications, we use it to create an electric circuit that uses water as a switch.

Concepts: DNA, Physics, Structure, Metamaterial, Superlens, Materials science, Invisibility, Metamaterial antennas


Structural DNA nanotechnology and the DNA origami technique, in particular, have provided a range of spatially addressable two- and three-dimensional nanostructures. These structures are, however, typically formed of tightly packed parallel helices. The development of wireframe structures should allow the creation of novel designs with unique functionalities, but engineering complex wireframe architectures with arbitrarily designed connections between selected vertices in three-dimensional space remains a challenge. Here, we report a design strategy for fabricating finite-size wireframe DNA nanostructures with high complexity and programmability. In our approach, the vertices are represented by n × 4 multi-arm junctions (n = 2-10) with controlled angles, and the lines are represented by antiparallel DNA crossover tiles of variable lengths. Scaffold strands are used to integrate the vertices and lines into fully assembled structures displaying intricate architectures. To demonstrate the versatility of the technique, a series of two-dimensional designs including quasi-crystalline patterns and curvilinear arrays or variable curvatures, and three-dimensional designs including a complex snub cube and a reconfigurable Archimedean solid were constructed.

Concepts: DNA, Nanotechnology, Design, DNA nanotechnology, Uniform polyhedron, DNA origami, Archimedean solid, Snub cube


Oxygen-depleted hypoxic regions in the tumour are generally resistant to therapies. Although nanocarriers have been used to deliver drugs, the targeting ratios have been very low. Here, we show that the magneto-aerotactic migration behaviour of magnetotactic bacteria, Magnetococcus marinus strain MC-1 (ref. 4), can be used to transport drug-loaded nanoliposomes into hypoxic regions of the tumour. In their natural environment, MC-1 cells, each containing a chain of magnetic iron-oxide nanocrystals, tend to swim along local magnetic field lines and towards low oxygen concentrations based on a two-state aerotactic sensing system. We show that when MC-1 cells bearing covalently bound drug-containing nanoliposomes were injected near the tumour in severe combined immunodeficient beige mice and magnetically guided, up to 55% of MC-1 cells penetrated into hypoxic regions of HCT116 colorectal xenografts. Approximately 70 drug-loaded nanoliposomes were attached to each MC-1 cell. Our results suggest that harnessing swarms of microorganisms exhibiting magneto-aerotactic behaviour can significantly improve the therapeutic index of various nanocarriers in tumour hypoxic regions.

Concepts: Electron, Archaea, Bacteria, Magnetic field, Magnet, Magnetism, Magnetite, Field line


The design of stacks of layered materials in which adjacent layers interact by van der Waals forces has enabled the combination of various two-dimensional crystals with different electrical, optical and mechanical properties as well as the emergence of novel physical phenomena and device functionality. Here, we report photoinduced doping in van der Waals heterostructures consisting of graphene and boron nitride layers. It enables flexible and repeatable writing and erasing of charge doping in graphene with visible light. We demonstrate that this photoinduced doping maintains the high carrier mobility of the graphene/boron nitride heterostructure, thus resembling the modulation doping technique used in semiconductor heterojunctions, and can be used to generate spatially varying doping profiles such as p-n junctions. We show that this photoinduced doping arises from microscopically coupled optical and electrical responses of graphene/boron nitride heterostructures, including optical excitation of defect transitions in boron nitride, electrical transport in graphene, and charge transfer between boron nitride and graphene.

Concepts: Physics, Light, Van der Waals force, Semiconductor, Boron, Boron nitride, P-n junction, Heterojunction


Self-assembly of block-copolymers provides a route to the fabrication of small (size, <50 nm) and dense (pitch, <100 nm) features with an accuracy that approaches even the demanding specifications for nanomanufacturing set by the semiconductor industry. A key requirement for practical applications, however, is a rapid, high-resolution method for patterning block-copolymers with different molecular weights and compositions across a wafer surface, with complex geometries and diverse feature sizes. Here we demonstrate that an ultrahigh-resolution jet printing technique that exploits electrohydrodynamic effects can pattern large areas with block-copolymers based on poly(styrene-block-methyl methacrylate) with various molecular weights and compositions. The printed geometries have diameters and linewidths in the sub-500 nm range, line edge roughness as small as ∼45 nm, and thickness uniformity and repeatability that can approach molecular length scales (∼2 nm). Upon thermal annealing on bare, or chemically or topographically structured substrates, such printed patterns yield nanodomains of block-copolymers with well-defined sizes, periodicities and morphologies, in overall layouts that span dimensions from the scale of nanometres (with sizes continuously tunable between 13 nm and 20 nm) to centimetres. As well as its engineering relevance, this methodology enables systematic studies of unusual behaviours of block-copolymers in geometrically confined films.

Concepts: Geometry, Semiconductor, Pattern, Methodology, Printing, Inkjet printer, Annealing


The synthesis of designer solid-state materials by living organisms is an emerging field in bio-nanotechnology. Key examples include the use of engineered viruses as templates for cobalt oxide (Co(3)O(4)) particles, superparamagnetic cobalt-platinum alloy nanowires and gold-cobalt oxide nanowires for photovoltaic and battery-related applications. Here, we show that the earthworm’s metal detoxification pathway can be exploited to produce luminescent, water-soluble semiconductor cadmium telluride (CdTe) quantum dots that emit in the green region of the visible spectrum when excited in the ultraviolet region. Standard wild-type Lumbricus rubellus earthworms were exposed to soil spiked with CdCl(2) and Na(2)TeO(3) salts for 11 days. Luminescent quantum dots were isolated from chloragogenous tissues surrounding the gut of the worm, and were successfully used in live-cell imaging. The addition of polyethylene glycol on the surface of the quantum dots allowed for non-targeted, fluid-phase uptake by macrophage cells.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Cadmium, Solar cell, Earthworm, Lumbricidae, Annelids, Lumbricus terrestris


Silicon nanowire and nanopore arrays promise to reduce manufacturing costs and increase the power conversion efficiency of photovoltaic devices. So far, however, photovoltaic cells based on nanostructured silicon exhibit lower power conversion efficiencies than conventional cells due to the enhanced photocarrier recombination associated with the nanostructures. Here, we identify and separately measure surface recombination and Auger recombination in wafer-based nanostructured silicon solar cells. By identifying the regimes of junction doping concentration in which each mechanism dominates, we were able to design and fabricate an independently confirmed 18.2%-efficient nanostructured ‘black-silicon’ cell that does not need the antireflection coating layer(s) normally required to reach a comparable performance level. Our results suggest design rules for efficient high-surface-area solar cells with nano- and microstructured semiconductor absorbers.

Concepts: Semiconductor, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Energy conversion efficiency, Germanium, Photovoltaic module, P-n junction, Carrier generation and recombination