Probing knotted DNA with nanocapillaries and optical tweezers
The Laboratoire de Biologie a l’Echelle Nanometrique (LBEN) at EPFL is offering a semester (master) or summer intern project related to optical trapping in single molecule DNA biophysics.
Optical tweezers are a single molecule technique that uses laser light to trap and controllably move a micrometer sized bead in three dimensional space. By binding DNA molecules on the bead one is able to manipulate a single molecule of DNA and approach it to a nanometer sized hole (nanopore) and study the DNA and any structures present on it. This technique enables one to precisely study how DNA interacts with different proteins by observing how the DNA blocks electrical current passing through the nanopore and how the force balance on the DNA molecule changes during the process of threading it through the nanopore.
The project would be based on combining fluorescently labeled DNA molecules with nanocapillaries in order to study formation of knots along the DNA strand. Controlled formation of DNA knots has been achieved in the past but it’s detection and characterization with nanopores has been demonstrated only recently albeit without the control that the use of optical tweezers enables.
The project would start with learning the basics of making and characterizing nanocapillaries. During this process the student would learn the basics of clean room operation and scanning electron microscopy. Afterwards the focus would be on understanding the optical tweezers setup and being able to independently perform simple DNA translocation experiments using the optical tweezers. The final outcome of the project would involve the student adapting the existing experimental set-up in order to be able to produce, detect and later analyse DNA knot formation using our custom analysis software.
Required skills: Basic experience in optical techniques (what a laser is and why not to look into one without protective eyewear) and biological sample preparation (knowing what a pipette is and how to use it, etc…). Experience with Python (or MATLAB) programing is a plus.
Learning objectives: The student is expected to learn laboratory sample preparation, using optical experimental setups (optical tweezers, fluorescence microscopy), analysing data and basic polymer biophysics. Emphasis would also be put on teaching or strengthening generic/soft skills in a candidate involving problem solving, writing skills, presentation skills, teamwork, proactivity… – all relevant for any future working environment.
Ionic liquids for DNA sequencing with solid state nanopores
The Laboratoire de Biologie a l’Echelle Nanometrique (LBEN) at EPFL is offering a semester (master) or summer intern project related to using ionic liquids as a novel environment to control DNA translocation through nanopores for genome sequencing applications.
Nanopores, tiny nm-size holes in membranes, are label-free sensing platforms able to characterize single biomolecules. The passage of a biomolecule through either a biological or synthetic pore is monitored in time through the level of current blockage the studied object produces. They are used by many research groups worldwide for detection, manipulation and analysis of biomolecules such as DNA, RNA or proteins. Nanopores are interesting both for academia and industry because of their applications in DNA sequencing (e.g. Oxford Nanopore Technologies). Solid state nanopores are expected to surpass the current state of the art which uses biological pores due to their resilience and potential for fine control of biopolymer translocation.
Current generation solid state nanopores have several deficiencies stopping them from becoming a practical alternative to biological pores, the major one being that the passage time of a single nucleotide in a DNA chain is too fast for current electronics to reliably detect and discriminate. One method for slowing translocations is by using room temperature ionic liquids – salts which, unlike kitchen salt, are liquids near room temperatures giving them unique properties. Ionic liquids have been demonstrated as a medium for slowing down translocations of DNA in biological pores as a substitute for regular salt  or by using an interface between regular buffer solutions and highly viscous ionic liquids .
The project would involve first learning the basics of sample preparation and operation of nanopores for detecting translocations of DNA. The project would then focus on testing several room temperature ionic liquids as substitutes for salt in typical DNA translocation experiments. The culmination of the project would involve using extremely small nanopores (~1 nm diameter) in 2D materials like MoS2 for probing local correlations between ionic liquid ions with or without DNA. Similar phenomena involving ion selectivity have been demonstrated in our lab as having potential applications in producing green energy.
Required skills: Experience with chemical lab work is mandatory. A background in chemistry is preferable. Basic knowledge of programming in Python (or MATLAB) programming is a plus.
Learning objectives: The student is expected to learn basic laboratory sample preparation, how to perform DNA translocation experiments through synthetic nanopores and data analysis. Emphasis would also be put on teaching or strengthening generic/soft skills in a candidate involving problem solving, writing skills, presentation skills, teamwork, proactivity… – all relevant for any future working environment.