New DNA chip rapidly detects, identifies dangerous pathogens

Detecting pathogens, whether from natural diseases or biological weapons, is about to get faster and more convenient, thanks to a new technique that can sense harmful DNA and immediately alert a doctor or scientist. The research, published in the April 9 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, uses custom-designed loops of DNA that emit colored light in the presence of a specific creature's DNA. The loop-laden chip could be used to detect anything from a bacterium or virus, to the specific DNA of a plant or person.

"More than ever we need ways to analyze genetic material quickly, whether it's to detect an infection in a patient or identify a potentially dangerous biological substance," says Todd Krauss, assistant professor of chemistry and co-creator of the chip. "We've designed a simple method that decreases the time, cost and quite possibly the potential for error inherent in the complicated techniques used today."

The new chip is remarkable in that it eliminates many of the time-consuming steps normally taken in identifying an organism by its DNA. Traditionally, workers in a laboratory have to make thousands of copies of a piece of DNA they want to test. Then a complex series of steps must be performed to attach a special molecule to the DNA, which will act as a fluorescent beacon, making the DNA strand easy to detect. These beacon-outfitted pieces are then mixed with control DNA sequences to see if any match. Matching sequences would adhere to one another, betraying their presence via the beacon.

The Rochester team, Krauss and Benjamin Miller, associate professor of dermatology, and student Hui Du, has created a new technique that is far simpler. A scientist might only have to place a drop of the solution in question onto a small chip or card and watch for a change of color to indicate whether specific DNA is present. The chips are sensitive enough that copying may be unnecessary, as are complex beacon attachments, and the

Contact: Jonathan Sherwood
University of Rochester

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