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Stanford chemists build a better "artificial nose"

A group of Stanford chemists has taken a new approach to building an "artificial nose," and the resulting sniffing sensor appears to be superior to existing ones. Stanford Report writer Louis Bergeron explains today:

By sticking fluorescent compounds onto short strands of the molecules that form the backbone of DNA, the researchers have produced tiny sensor molecules that change color when they detect certain substances. The sensors were made using existing technology for synthesizing DNA, and are viewed with a fluorescence microscope.

The color changes enable the new sensors to convey far more information than most other existing optical sensors, which typically just detect one specific molecule, said Eric Kool, professor of chemistry and senior author of a paper published online this week in the German journal Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry.)

"We were blown away by how strong the color changes were," Kool said...

More study is needed, but Kool said he'd like to see the DNA sensors someday used in liquid - something that could have implications for human health:

"To me, the most intriguing possibility is smelling [the] differences that are biologically important," Kool said. "It could be smelling [the] differences in cells that are related to disease or sensing toxins in the environment. Those are probably the most likely applications in the near future."

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