How do biological systems, based on a complex series of coupled biochemical reactions, encode and process information, that is, compute? To approach this question experimentally, research in the Chiu group focuses on the development of new tools that combine ultrasensitive laser-based detection and manipulation methodologies with micro- and nano- fabrication techniques for interfacing with biological systems at the nanometer scale.
Single-molecule methods. The Chiu group is developing and applying single-molecule methods for probing complex biological systems, specifically synaptic functioning and single-cell biology. The Chiu group is interested in studying both the biophysical properties of single proteins in the context of a cell, as wells as using the sensitivities achieved in single-molecule detection for biotechnological applications, such as in high-throughput screening, in the separation and detection of trace biological molecules from single cells (e.g. signaling proteins), and in the development of ultrasensitive sensors.
Integrated micro- and nano-fluidic systems on a biochip. Microfluidic systems, through miniaturization and integration, provide a platform for new types of rapid biological and chemical analyses. Successful demonstrations of this ?lab on a chip? concept include integrated devices for DNA and protein analyses and ?gene chips? for monitoring the combinatorial expression of genes in cells. Applications of these devices range from fundamental studies in cell biology to clinical diagnosis and drug delivery. The main focus in the Chiu group is to study new phenomena unique to this micro- and nano- environment and to exploit these phenomena for addressing selected problems in biology.
Biomaterials. Motivations for research at this biology/material science interface include the potential to integrate biological systems with electronic devices for monitoring and controlling biological responses, the study and development of biologically inspired materials, and the possibility of creating complex microenvironment in vitro for fundamental studies in cellular networks and ecology. The main goals in the Chiu group are to pattern ?real? neuronal networks on a chip, to study the dynamics of these networks, and to compare the behavior of these networks with that of artificial ones. An understanding of the behavior of these simple in vitro systems is a first step towards deciphering how complex biological systems encode and process information.