To understand how a solid-state nanopore works, imagine a heavily trafficked multi-lane highway that is the only connection point between two cities, and pretend for a moment that everyone is good at driving and doesn’t cause traffic jams accidentally (difficult, I know). When all the lanes are open, cars pass along the highway at some rate, and standing on the side of the highway you could count how many cars pass you by. Now imagine that somewhere upstream, some of the lanes become blocked. You would notice fewer cars passing you by (the current of cars, if you will), and you could infer that for some reason, some of the lanes are blocked. If you are counting carefully, you could probably even tell how many of the lanes are blocked.
Now scale everything down a billion times: the lanes on the road are now the width of a piece of DNA or a protein molecule, the cars are individual ions, and the highway over which they pass becomes our nanopore. Instead of measuring the current of cars, we measure the current of ions, and the inference that something is blocking the road by observing fewer cars pass is exactly how nanopores inform us about the presence of target molecules blocking the flow of ions.
To answer the titular question, then: It’s a tiny hole that can electrically detect and characterize individual molecules when they pass through the pore. And it’s an incredibly versatile nanotechnological tool that will change the face of medical diagnostics and personalized medicine, DNA sequencing, and even the way we store digital information, to name just a subset of possibilities the field is already exploring.
At Northern Nanopore Instruments, we seek to make the core technology underlying all of this promise accessible to literally everyone who has an idea to explore. Now is the best time there has ever been to start your solid-state nanopore research program. Thanks to the instrumentation we are offering, the field is at an inflection point where solid-state nanopore research is affordable and broadly accessible, while at the same time endless possibilities are still open to exploration. There are applications of solid-state nanopores waiting to be discovered that have not even been conceived yet, and there is an enormous amount of room for creativity.
If you are interested in learning more about solid-state nanopores and how they can enhance your research program, or are seeking to begin an entirely new avenue of research in this exciting area, reach out to us for a discussion.