When Nanogen was started in the early 1990s, its scientists came up with an idea: Make a microarray using an electric field-based sorting mechanism, according to cofounder Michael Heller. "It didn't escape our attention that since we were using DNA and were labeling it with all kinds of little flu-orophores and nano-particles, we were helping to assist in the assembly of DNA molecules by using the electronic methods," Heller says.

It was the beginning of assisted self-assembly of individual DNA molecules. Nanogen's most recent US patent, 6,652,808, is one of a group of patents built on the concept. The patent describes an electric field-based process that brings together and integrates DNA and other nanocomponents, such as DNA-derivatized structures, into higher-order devices and structures. It could be used to create high-density, two- and three-dimensional data-storage materials, photonic crystals, nanospheres, and quantum dots, among other devices, according to the company.

"Self-assembly so...

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