PhD Studentship: Towards 'Next-Next' Generation Sequencing with Quantum Tunnelling - Surface Engineering

University of Birmingham - Chemistry

This project revolves around an entirely new approach to biomolecular analysis and sequencing of DNA, RNA and other biopolymers, namely based on quantum mechanical tunnelling. Such a sequencing technology could be faster than established techniques, it could be label-free and applicable across a whole range of analytes (rather than being specific to DNA or RNA). More generally, it is intriguing to consider whether 'quantum technology' could indeed form the basis for a new generation of bioanalytical devices in the future, even though it may still be a long way.  

Conceptually, the idea is rather simple: a voltage is applied across an electrode nanojunction, either on a chip or in a Scanning Tunnelling Microscope configuration, and the resulting tunnelling current is measured. This can also be done in solution. The magnitude of the current depends on the composition and electronic properties of the junction. When different DNA nucleotides diffuse in and out of junction, characteristic changes in the tunnelling current can be recorded and used to identify the nucleotide. This has been achieved with an accuracy of about 90% for the four DNA bases individually so far - which is unfortunately not good enough for sequencing an entire strand.[1]

It is known, however, that the surface chemistry and composition play an important role in determining the interaction between the DNA base and the electrodes, as well as the energetics of the junction - and thus the magnitude of the tunnelling signal and even its temporal structure.[2,3] The focus of this project is therefore to vary the elemental (surface) composition of the electrode, by electrodeposition and other methods, characterise their electrochemical and energetic properties, and investigate the effect on tunnelling-based detection of small biomolecules, such as DNA nucleotides, epigenetic markers and base analogues.

The project is at the boundary of an interdisciplinary area of research, involving surface electrochemistry, physics, nanoscience and advanced single-molecule data analysis. It is embedded in state-of-the-art infrastructure in the Albrecht group at the School of Chemistry and close collaborations with other research groups in the UK and abroad, including electronics engineers and Machine Learning specialists.

Please direct any enquires related to this opening to Prof. Tim Albrecht,

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Midlands of England