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SMART’s new discovery revolutionises nano-engineering

Researchers from SMART have recently made a breakthrough in uncovering a better method to analyse nanoparticles. This discovery will revolutionise different sectors and disciplines, says one of the leaders of the research team.





SINGAPORE | 5 NOVEMBER 2019


Researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, (SMART), MIT’s research institute in Singapore, have recently found a new technique that allows researchers to attribute properties to nanoparticles. This revolutionary breakthrough also allows researchers to understand the characteristics of nanoparticles without interfering with its structure.


Nanoparticles are microscopic particles with at least one dimension less than 100mm, and scientist have been paying increasing attention to nanoparticles and their properties. This is because they are, in essence, the bridge between bulk materials and atomic or molecular structures.


More cost-effective and more efficient in aiding researchers with their analysis of nanoparticles, this new technique was discovered with Professor Michael Strano and Minkyung Park leading the research. Professor Michael Strano is the co-lead principal investigator of DiSTAP and a Carbon P. Dubbs Professor at MIT, while Minkyung Park is a Graduate Student at MIT.


The technique used to analyse nanoparticles, Molecular Probe Adsorption, is a new process that already been explained in a paper titled “Measuring the Accessible Surface Area within the Nanoparticle Corona using Molecular Probe Adsorption” in Nano Letters, a well-known academic journal.


This method is used by researchers to calculate the area that dispersants take up on the surface of nanoparticles, which are used to stabilise the nanoparticle at room temperature. Researchers use the probe to come in physical contact with the nanoparticle surface, and this method was found using a non-invasive adsorption of fluorescent probe on the surface of colloidal nanoparticles in aqueous state as a premise.


"We can now characterise the surface of the nanoparticle through its adsorption of the fluorescent probe. This allows us to understand the surface of the nanoparticle without damaging it, which is, unfortunately, the case with chemical processes widely used today," said Park. "This new method also uses machines that are readily available in labs today, opening up a new easy method for the scientific community to develop nanoparticles that can help revolutionise different sectors and disciplines."


The Molecular Probe Adsorption (MPA) method also allows each nanoparticle to be distinguished from each other within a short period of time—minutes—which is a much faster method than the chemical methods we are currently using. Also, as the MPA method only requires fluorescent light as an essential tool, it is significantly more inexpensive than the methods we have undertook so far.


DiSTAP, which stands for Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision, is one of the six Interdisciplinary Research Group (IRGs) in Singapore, and it has started to use this method for nanoparticle sensors in plants and nanocarrier for transport of molecular transport into plants. This revolutionises food security and production worldwide by the use of new and powerful analytical, genetic and biosynthetic technology.


"We are already using the new MPA method within DiSTAP to aid us in creating sensors and nanocarriers for plants," said Strano. "It has enabled us to discover and optimize more sensitive sensors, and understand the surface chemistry, which in turn allows for greater precision when monitoring plants. With higher quality data and insight into plant biochemistry, we can ultimately provide optimal nutrient levels or beneficial hormones for healthier plants and higher yields."


DiSTAP plans to make full use of this new technique, the MPA method, to engineer plants that are able to survive through poor weather conditions such as droughts and floods, have high resistance against pathogens and are able to maintain high yield density production. They also plan to modify the plants such that they can biosynthesise commercial products that are attractive to consumers and bring high profit to the developers. Leveraging the MPA process, DiSTAP aims to develop tools that are able to improve urban farming.


DiSTAP’s goal is to transform the process by which plant biosynthetic pathways are discovered, monitored, engineered and translated to meet the global demand for food and nutrients. It is a part of SMART that develops new technologies to help Singapore increase the amount of food it gets from agriculture, and it plays an important role in helping Singapore become more self-sufficient in terms of food. This is of great importance because Singapore is, currently, still heavily reliant on imported food to feed its people.




The research paper was published in November 2019 on Nano Letters.

This article was contributed by Ling Yi, an editorial intern at World Scientific Publishing Co. and a contributing writer for Asia-Pacific Biotech News. She is from Nanyang Girls' High School, has keen interest in learning more about life sciences and exploring literature, in both English and Chinese. She also enjoys studying different languages such as Japanese and Korean, and has a passion for dancing and reading.