Assistant Professor Jinglei Ping from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE) Department at UMass Amherst, along with his students, recently published a trailblazing paper in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Their research introduces a nano-mechanoelectrical method for DNA detection, boasting unmatched specificity and a 100-fold improvement in detection sensitivity. In addition to his role in MIE, Ping is affiliated with UMass Amherst’s Institute of Applied Life Sciences and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Ping notes, “Our method is poised to revolutionize biotechnology, paving the way for accurate point-of-care diagnoses of diseases like COVID-19, Ebola, HIV, and cancer.” This innovation suggests the potential for diagnosing these critical conditions even in remote or under-resourced locations.

The paper, titled “Nano-mechanoelectrical approach to highly sensitive and specific label-free DNA detection,” appeared in the August 7 issue of PNAS. Xiaoyu Zhang, the first author who conducted most of the experiments, co-authored the paper with Xiao Fan and Huilu Bao. All are Ph.D. students in Ping’s Nano/Bio Interfaces & Applications Laboratory. This research was supported by the Trailblazer Award bestowed upon Ping by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering.

Highlighting the importance of his research, Ping comments that “While miniaturized DNA analysis holds significant promise, the existing methodologies face challenges such as enzyme instability, nonspecific amplification, and the need for expert handling.” These challenges make many current methods less suitable for applications beyond advanced labs, particularly in remote or economically challenged regions.

Ping’s innovative nano-mechanoelectrical approach, as detailed in PNAS, addresses these challenges. Instead of merely detecting static DNA targets, his method induces DNA oscillation — or “dance” — within an alternating electric field. The contrasting flexibilities of unpaired and paired DNA strands play a pivotal role in the spectral characteristics, making the transistor-current spectra indicative of DNA hybridization and ensuring remarkable specificity and sensitivity.

Ping DNA detection picture

In conclusion, Ping asserts, “Our study emphasizes the potential of advanced DNA analysis using compact, all-electronic systems.” His approach promises significant utility in point-of-care settings, especially where resources are limited.

Ping’s Nano/Bio Interfaces & Applications Laboratory primarily focuses on biosensing devices based on two-dimensional materials and their practical applications in point-of-care diagnostics. Ping says that “Our overarching goal is to understand the foundational principles behind nanomaterial applications in biotechnology, healthcare, and environmental monitoring.” (September 2023)

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