Santa Barbara, Calif.--Researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a new method for detecting DNA, which could transform medical diagnostics. Currently, tests for the presence of DNA--to identify, for instance, the presence of a bacterium such as anthrax, or a virus, or a specific gene--require that the DNA be amplified or grown. The UCSB researchers combine the use of a light-emitting polymer with peptide nucleic acid (PNA) probes to make a test so sensitive that the costly DNA amplification can be reduced and perhaps eliminated.
The article "DNA Detection Using Water-Soluble Conjugated Polymers and Peptide Nucleic Acid Probes" appears in the Aug. 5 on-line edition of the Proceedings and in the Aug. 20 print version.
The authors are Brent Gaylord, a graduate student in the Materials Department; his adviser, chemist Guillermo Bazan; and physicist Alan Heeger. Both Bazan and Heeger also hold joint appointments in materials.
Heeger won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for the discovery and development of conductive polymers." Before the work of Heeger and his co-recipients, polymers--a type of long skinny carbon-based molecule shaped with repeating units like beads on a string--were thought of preeminently as insulators--i.e., the plastic casing for the electron-carrying wires that run from lamp to wall socket. For a polymer to be conducting or light-absorbing and emitting, it has to alternate single and double bonds along the backbone of the polymer, which is called "conjugation," and the resultant polymer is described as "conjugated."
Bazan and his student Gaylord and other researchers have recently made light-emitting polymers soluble in water by attaching to the long polymer molecule via little molecular side chains a charged group, which behaves like a soap, thereby enabling the polymer to be dissolved in water.
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Contact: Jacquelyn Savani
University of California, Santa Barbara - Engineering
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