A newly developed nanoscale imaging tool will enable researchers examine large genomes at single-molecule resolutions in order to detect traces of cancer and other diseases.

Convex Lens-Induced Confinement (CLIC), developed by Professors Sabrina Leslie and Walter Reisner of McGill’s Physics Department and Dr Rob Sladek of the Génome Québec Innovation Centre, loads long strands of DNA into imaging chambers without affecting their structural identity, under conditions similar to those in the human body. The technique frees researchers from having to assemble maps of entire genomes, making analysis simpler and more efficient.

"It’s like squeezing soft spaghetti noodles into long narrow tubes without breaking them," explains Leslie. "DNA is gently squeezed down into nanochannels from a nanoscale bath above, at which point it becomes effectively rigid, which means that we can map positions along uniformly stretched strands, while holding them still. This means diagnostics can be performed quickly, one cell at a time, which is critical for diagnosing many pre-natal conditions and the onset of cancer."