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Posted: November 17, 2009
European Research Council funds nanobiotechnology at TU Delft with 2.5 million euros
(Nanowerk News) The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a prestigious EUR 2.5 million Advanced Grant to the Institute of Nanoscience at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands (TU Delft) for its work in bio-nano research.
The ERC, funded under the 'Ideas' Theme of the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), is the first EU funding body set up to support challenging new research and advance excellence in creative scientific thinking. It also seeks to encourage scientists to identify new opportunities and challenges rather than having their research led by governments and policy makers.
Nanotechnology is one of these frontier areas of research, and the recipient of the ERC Advanced Grant, Professor Cees Dekker from the Institute of Nanoscience at TU Delft, said, 'We want to use the power of nanofabrication [...] to find out more about big biological questions such as the precise working of processes within cells.'
In the first part of his research project, Professor Dekker and his team will study the evolution and adaptation of bacteria. 'Nanofabrication techniques allow us to build precisely defined landscapes on a chip, in order to study the adaptation and evolution of bacteria,' he explained.
'We are actually creating a kind of miniature Galapagos Islands for bacteria. Some of them will cross over to a different island; others won't. By varying the environmental factors and properties of the bacteria, we can gain more insight into how bacteria adapt. We can directly observe evolution in space and time.'
The bacteria in the study move through narrow channels where they are completely flattened before emerging in different shapes. The research being carried out by Professor Dekker and his team suggests that that there may be far more bacteria present in narrow spaces than previously thought. This may have critical consequences for products such as medical equipment.
In the second part of the research, the team will use electron bundles to make nanometre-wide holes. DNA molecules will be able to move through these holes while being tracked and screened. The aim is to read their genetic codes and observe which genes are either switched 'on' or 'off'.
In the final part of the research, the team will attempt to 'mimic' the construction of biological pores by focusing on the microscopic holes in the membrane of the cell nucleus. 'In those holes there are certain proteins which function as a kind of gatekeeper to the cell nucleus,' said Professor Dekker. 'They determine which molecules are allowed out or in. But exactly how they do that is still a mystery. By mimicking these holes with nanofabrication and coating them with these gatekeeper proteins, we hope to discover more about this important mechanism.'
For Professor Dekker, a particularly interesting element of the research is the element of chance. 'Some bacteria aim for cooperation while others are 'cheaters' which benefit from the work of their fellows,' he explained. 'We can manage those properties too, and study them under controlled circumstances.'