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Wyss Wins $3.5M for Advanced Molecular Imaging Tech

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A research team at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University has reeled in a $3.5 million grant to develop a new method for molecular imaging that could break through the current boundaries of microscopy, the institute said today.

Using a National Institutes of Health Transformative Research Award, the Wyss group aims to develop a DNA-based microscopy that would enable scientists to distinguish healthy and diseased cells and study the molecular workings inside a cell.

"Until we can visualize many molecular components of cells clearly and simultaneously, we can only make educated guesses about how they team up to carry out their complex biological functions," Wyss Institute Founding Director Don Ingber said in a statement.

The Wyss team, working with another investigator at Weill Cornell Medical College, to develop a method that pairs a single-molecule imaging technique with DNA nanotechnologies.

The method, called DNA-PAINT, involves tagging bits of DNA with a fluorescent dye to create segments called imager strands. These strands bind transiently to a matching DNA strand that is attached to a target molecule, which makes the targets appear to blink. That blinking enables investigators to go beyond the diffraction limit, which is around 0.2 micrometers for traditional light microscopes, and to gather sharp images of these molecular targets.

Breaking through that diffraction limit, while providing sharp images, is important for researchers because enzymes, DNA, RNA, and other molecular-level targets are much smaller than that.

"The powerful thing about using DNA lies in its amazing programmability," said Peng Yin, a Wyss core faculty member and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School who is leading the project.

"We plan to use that capability to make molecules in cells blink in a programmable and autonomous way. This will allow us to see things that were previously invisible," Yin said.