Breaking Barriers for DNA Insertion

By Meghan Bialt-DeCelie ’19


Fig. 1: To insert foreign DNA, electroporation is used to form pores on the cell membrane.

Genetic engineering involves inserting foreign DNA into cells to perform new functions. In order for DNA to pass the cell membrane, cells are put in a specifically calibrated electric field that opens pores in the membrane in a process called electroporation. Each organism has a unique electric field calibration that scientists have to test for with every new organism they wish to engineer. Finding the correct electric field conditions that effectively and reversibly opens pores for each new organism can take anywhere from months to years.


In order to reduce experimentation, engineers from MIT have created a microfluidic device that could test a range of electric potentials at once, allowing scientists to find the right conditions for electroporation in new organisms. This device is a channel with a narrow middle that expresses a range of electric potentials, the highest potential being in the channel’s narrowest region. Researchers can add various strains of bacteria in the device with DNA attached to fluorescent markers. If the organisms successfully engulf the DNA, they light up. Because the researcher knows the location of the electric potential in the channel, they are able to quickly determine the condition that works the best.  This microfluidic device could effectively advance DNA research in genetic engineering and synthetic biology.



  1. Image Acquired from:
  2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. New device may speed up DNA insertion into bacteria.  Science Daily (2016).

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