ISU scientists develop nanomachines to diagnose illness

Eric Henderson

Eric Henderson – Professor of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology at Iowa State University


AMES, Iowa – Imagine you want to build an intricate work of architecture, like a castle.

Now imagine that, once all its individual components are brought together, the castle builds itself automatically. Finally, imagine this castle is so small that it’s measured on the same scale as DNA, viruses and small molecules.

You’ve just entered the nanoscale world where Eric Henderson lives. And if this sounds like magic to you, maybe you’re not far off the mark.

“It’s the magic of how DNA works,” said Henderson, a professor of genetics, development and cell biology at Iowa State University.

Henderson, along with his former graduate student Divita Mathur, studies how to build nanomachines that may have real-world medical applications someday soon. He and Mathur recently published an article in the peer-reviewed Scientific Reports describing his laboratory’s successful effort to design a nanomachine capable of detecting a mockup of the Ebola virus.

He said such a machine would prove valuable in the developing world, where access to diagnostic medical equipment can be rare. He said his nanotechnology could be fabricated cheaply and deployed easily. Used in conjunction with a smartphone app, nearly anyone could use the technology to detect Ebola or any number of other diseases and pathogens without the need for traditional medical facilities.

The trick lies in understanding the rules that govern how DNA works, Henderson said.

“It’s possible to exploit that rule set in a way that creates advantages for medicine and biotechnology,” he said.

The iconic double-helix structure of DNA means that one strand of DNA will bind only with a complementary side. Even better, those compatible strands find each other automatically, like a castle that builds itself. Henderson harnessed those same principles for his nanomachines. The components, once added to water and then heated and cooled, find each other and assemble correctly without any further effort from the individual deploying the machines.

And just how “nano” is a nanomachine? Henderson said about 40 billion individual machines fit in a single drop of water.

The machines act as a diagnostic tool that detects certain maladies at the genetic level. For the recently published paper, Henderson and Mathur, now a postdoctoral research fellow at the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., designed the machines to look for signs of Ebola, though the experiments in the study used a mock version of the viral genome and not the real thing. Henderson employed an embedded photonic system that tests for the presence of the target molecules. If the machines sniff out what they’re looking for, the photonic system flashes a light, which can be detected with a machine called a fluorometer.

Henderson said this sort of technology could be modified to find certain kinds of molecules or pathogens, allowing for virtually anyone, anywhere to run diagnostic tests without access to medical facilities.

He also envisions a time when similar nanoscale architectures could be used to deliver medication precisely where it needs to go at precisely the right time. These nanomachines, built from DNA, essentially would encapsulate the medication and guide it to its target.

Henderson said such advances aren’t that far beyond the reach of modern medicine. It just requires scientists in the field to think small. Really small, in this case.

From the Iowa State University News Service

Economic Development Board approves awards to support over $43 million in capital investments in Iowa

May 20, 2016 (DES MOINES, IA) – The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) board today awarded direct financial assistance and tax benefits to eight companies for job creation and expansion projects. These awards will assist in the creation of 1,275 jobs, retention of 53 jobs and will result in over $43 million in new capital investment for the state. The board also approved innovation funding for six startups.

The board approved assistance for planned or proposed projects located in Cedar Falls, Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fairfield, Iowa City, Keokuk, Sheldon and Waukee.

Read the entire list by visiting:


Free workshop for small businesses


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Time: 9:30AM – 1PM, May 21st
Place: Ames Public Library

If you are taking the first steps towards starting a small business, or have always been curious about owning one, this is an invitation to learn more about what it takes for a small business to be successful! A Small Business – Your Opportunity for Success will host an array of speakers to touch on things such as accounting, marketing, legalities, and more. 

The ISU Small Business Development Center and the Ames Chamber of Commerce are sponsoring a workshop for emerging small businesses. This program is open to anyone who owns or is considering starting a small business. The program will feature local business successes, as well as business professionals and advisors.

The event will be held at the Ames Public Library in the Danfoss Room from 9:30AM to 1:00PM.

The event is free, but REGISTER HERE.

Percival Scientific receives Department of Commerce “E” Award

Percival Scientific Inc. has received the nation’s highest recognition for contributions to U.S. exports. Percival was one of 123 recipients of the President’s “E” Award that were part of a ceremony Monday in Washington, according to the Commerce Department. The award was created in 1961.

About Percival Scientific:

Percival Scientific, Inc. has the unique distinction of being in business for over 125 years.  In 1886, C.L. Percival and J.E. Smith established Percival Manufacturing in Des Moines, Iowa. Initially, the company manufactured and sold butcher tools, machinery and fixtures. By 1901, the need for a refrigerated cabinet became evident, prompting Percival to pursue and receive a patent. Forty years later, in 1941, the company moved to a new 24,000 square foot facility and continued to manufacture a complete line of refrigerated display units. Since May 2000, we’ve occupied a state-of-the-art 60,000 square foot facility in Perry, Iowa.

Percival Scientific, a worldwide leader in the design and manufacture of environmental growth chambers, is proud to call Perry, Iowa our home. Our facility encompasses all engineering, design, fabrication and construction of our extensive product line, allowing Percival Scientific to maintain complete control of the manufacturing process.

Percival chambers have become the preferred choice among universities, colleges, government institutions and businesses both domestically and internationally. Our chambers are found in Europe, Asia, Brazil, India, China, Australia as well as many other countries. Our ability to meet individual requirements and to control multiple critical testing variables is what has allowed Percival Scientific to become an industry leader.

For more information visit:

TechBrew Des Moines Wednesday, May 18


Join TAI for TechBrew at the Accelerate DSM event on Wednesday, May 18 at the Science Center of Iowa. Produced in collaboration with 1 Million Cups DSM, the Technology Association of Iowa and dmStartupDrinks, Accelerate DSM will feature panels, keynotes, roundtables and networking with members of the Des Moines startup community. In the afternoon, listen to Global Insurance Accelerator pitches from the class of 2016.

Learn more and register for the full day conference at

Your first drink at TechBrew is on us starting at 5 pm!

When: Wednesday, May 18
Time: 5-7pm
Where: Science Center of Iowa
401 W Martin Luther King Jr Pkwy, Des Moines, IA 50309
May TechBrew Des Moines is Sponsored by: DavisBrown Law Firm


Venture competition offers $50,000 in cash

The Pappajohn Iowa Entrepreneurial Venture Competition is an opportunity for young businesses to win funds for their company. APPLICATION DEADLINE is midnight MAY 17.

Eligibility requirements:

  • The plan must relate to an original idea for a business in operation for four years or less or a business that is not yet cash flow positive
  • The principal business operations must be located in Iowa
  • Businesses can include, but are not limited to: technology, biotechnology, green technologies, medical, advanced manufacturing, agriculture and agri products, engineering or education. Eligible businesses must not be engaged primarily in retail sales, real estate or the provision of health care or other professional services. 

For additional information, visit:, or contact Anna Hobart, 319-384-3262. 


Meet with federal funding agencies

Get On the Bus!

From the Iowa Innovation Corporation: Details are coming together for the SBIR/STTR National Road Tour in August. This conference gives Iowans the opportunity to meet face-to-face with representatives from federal funding agencies including NASA, National Institutes of Health, USDA and National Science Foundation. The national bus tour event will be Wednesday, August 17 in Ames. To prepare participants, we are again sponsoring two pre-conferences:

Monday, August 15 in Iowa City
Tuesday, August 16 in Ames

The pre-conferences are highly recommended for those who want to get the most of the 1:1 sessions with federal funders. Pre-conference speakers will be Mark and Catherine Henry, Jim Greenwood and Jordan Hobfoll. Each will provide information about SBIR/STTR programming, and will set up appointments with participants for a 10-minute prep session for Wednesday’s federal 1:1 sessions.

Register here


Outstanding STEM teachers honored at Terrace Hill


The six 2016 I.O.W.A. STEM Teacher Award recipients were recognized by Governor Branstad and STEM Council Co-Chairs Lt. Governor Reynolds and Kemin Industries President and CEO Dr. Nelson at the STEM Council’s reception of the Future Ready Iowa Summit at Terrace Hill on April 18.

Iowa has been known as “a place to grow” and “life-changing,” yet to the STEM Council — thanks to the vision and investment of Kemin Industries — I.O.W.A. represents our state’s excellent STEM educators who are Innovative in their methods, Outstanding in their passion for education, Worldly in how they help their students see STEM all around them and Academic in engaging students both in and out of the classroom.

“We are extremely appreciative of STEM teachers in Iowa. This award is just one of the ways we enjoy honoring the hard work and dedication of exceptional teachers in our state,” said Kemin Industries President and CEO Dr. Chris Nelson, STEM Council co-chair. “These teachers deserve recognition for preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s workforce, which includes an abundance of STEM opportunities.”

In the second year of the I.O.W.A. STEM Teacher Award, six of Iowa’s most inspiring teachers of STEM subjects received award presentations in March at their schools and then formal recognition earlier this month at Terrace Hill. Each teacher received $1,500 and an additional $1,500 for their classrooms.

The 2016 I.O.W.A. STEM Teacher Award recipients are:

North Central STEM Region

Ed Birkey, Technology and Engineering Teacher

Fort Dodge High School

Northeast STEM Region

Dirk Homewood, Project Lead The Way and Mathematics Teacher

Cedar Falls High School

Northwest STEM Region

Kent Muyskens, Science Teacher

Carroll High School

South Central STEM Region

Ryan Lensing, Science Teacher

Dowling Catholic High School

Southeast STEM Region

Reagan Boeset, 6-8th Grade STEM Teacher

Clear Creek Amana Middle School

Southwest STEM Region

Erin Wetzel, Project Lead The Way and Computers Teacher

Southwest Valley Middle School


To read more about each recipient or to watch videos from the 2015 awardees, head to

Hargens, Spiegel receive advanced manufacturing leadership awards

Roger Hargens, president and CEO of Ankeny-based AccuMold, received NACFAM’s Advanced Manufacturing Leadership Award at its Annual Conference dinner on April 28. Hargens was selected to receive the Advanced Manufacturing Leadership Award for a mid-size company CEO. In his letter supporting Hargens’ nomination, Gov. Terry Branstad called Accumold “a home-grown Iowa success story” and Hargens “a guy who makes things happen.” Accumold produces super-micro, ultra-precision, plastic injection-molded parts that are critical components of the medical, micro-electronics and micro-optics industries. Also at the conference, Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens USA, was chosen as the recipient of the Advanced Manufacturing Leadership Award for a major company CEO. Spiegel is a national leader in the effort to address the skills gap that confronts America’s advanced manufacturers. Siemens operates six locations in Iowa.

For more information visit:


Economic Development Board approves awards to support over $89 million in capital investments in Iowa

On April 22nd, The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) board awarded direct financial assistance and tax benefits to nine companies for job creation and expansion projects. These awards will assist in the creation of 349 jobs and will result in over $89 million in new capital investment for the state. The board also approved innovation funding for seven startups.
The board approved assistance for planned or proposed projects located in Altoona, Ankeny, Coralville, Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque, Elkader, Iowa City, Johnston, Knoxville, Mt. Pleasant, New Sharon, St. Ansgar and Waterloo.

For a complete list of investments visit: