Grant to Fund Single-Molecule Microscope
AMES, Iowa, Sept. 3, 2010 — An Iowa State University researcher received a state grant to develop an instrument that reveals single molecules.
Sanjeevi Sivasankar, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy, demonstrates a microscope he's developing that can reveal the individual characteristics of a biological molecule. (Image: Bob Elbert/Iowa State University)
A grant of $120,075 was awarded to Sanjeevi Sivasankar, an Iowa State assistant professor of physics and astronomy and an associate of the US Department of Energy's Ames Laboratory. He'll work with Novascan Technologies Inc. of Ames to commercialize a new instrument that improves the study of single biological molecules.
As a post-doctoral researcher at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, Sivasankar worked with Steven Chu, the current US Secretary of Energy and co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics, to develop and build a single-molecule microscope. Supported by startup research funds from Iowa State, Sivasankar's laboratory has significantly refined the instrument by increasing its measurement capabilities, efficiency and ease of use.
The instrument integrates two single-molecule technologies that have been used separately: atomic force microscope technology, which manipulates molecules and measures forces; and fluorescence resonance energy transfer technology, which observes single molecules at very high resolution.
Using one or the other technology is like "having hands but no eyes or eyes but no hands," said Sivasankar. "We can combine these two technologies into one instrument."
That makes a big difference in biological studies, Sivasankar said. Typically, biologists study samples made up of thousands of molecules. The resulting data describes the average molecule in the sample. He said the new instrument can reveal the individual characteristics of a molecule.
Sivasankar, who has been working to refine a prototype of the instrument, said the microscope is very useful in his own studies of how the cells of the body bind and organize themselves. He said the instrument could also be a powerful tool in biomedical research, drug discovery, cancer diagnostics and bio-sensing applications.
The state Board of Regents recently approved Iowa State's proposal to award 10 competitive grants totaling $942,389 from Iowa State's $1.459 million share of this year's Grow Iowa Values Fund. Iowa State has awarded the grants since 2006 to research projects with potential for commercial development.
Sivasankar received the largest grant in this year’s competition.
"These grants are part of Iowa State's System for Innovation program that's focused on transferring university technologies to startup or existing companies," said Sharron Quisenberry, Iowa State's vice president for research and economic development. "This system recognizes that the fuel for transferring university technology to the Iowa economy is faculty and staff research."
For more information, visit www.iastate.edu
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