Nanoscale tweezers for single-cell biopsies

Paulose Nadappuram, Binoy and Cadinu, Paolo and Barik, Avijit and Ainscough, Alexander J. and Devine, Michael J. and Kang, Minkyung and Gonzalez-Garcia, Jorge and Kittler, Josef T. and Willison, Keith R. and Vilar, Ramon and Actis, Paolo and Wojciak-Stothard, Beata and Oh, Sang-Hyun and Ivanov, Aleksandar P. and Edel, Joshua B. (2019) Nanoscale tweezers for single-cell biopsies. Nature Nanotechnology, 14. pp. 80-88. ISSN 1748-3387 (

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Much of the functionality of multicellular systems arises from the spatial organization and dynamic behaviours within and between cells. Current single-cell genomic methods only provide a transcriptional 'snapshot' of individual cells. The real-time analysis and perturbation of living cells would generate a step change in single-cell analysis. Here we describe minimally invasive nanotweezers that can be spatially controlled to extract samples from living cells with single-molecule precision. They consist of two closely spaced electrodes with gaps as small as 10–20 nm, which can be used for the dielectrophoretic trapping of DNA and proteins. Aside from trapping single molecules, we also extract nucleic acids for gene expression analysis from living cells without affecting their viability. Finally, we report on the trapping and extraction of a single mitochondrion. This work bridges the gap between single-molecule/organelle manipulation and cell biology and can ultimately enable a better understanding of living cells.