First protein 'biochips' may deliver improved detection, diagnosis

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., June 30, 2000 -- Scientists at Purdue University have created the first protein "biochips," mating silicon computer chips with biological proteins.

The research coordinator says chips containing thousands of proteins could be organized into a device about the size of a handheld computer that could quickly and cheaply detect specific microbes, disease cells and harmful or therapeutic chemicals.

Michael Ladisch, professor of agricultural and biological engineering and biomedical engineering at Purdue, says that if the first real-world tests of the biochips are successful, the protein-encrusted silicon chips could appear in dozens of applications in a few years: Physicians could use devices containing biochips to quickly diagnose common diseases or to test the efficacy of chemotherapy. Soldiers might rely on sensors on the battlefield to sound the alarm in the event of a biological or chemical attack. Farmers could place sensors in their fields to alert them to crop diseases. Medical scientists could use the biochips to investigate whether certain plants popular as folk remedies actually contain biochemicals that have beneficial biological activity, and from the findings could develop new pharmaceutical products.

Although biochips containing DNA already are used to automate the sequencing of genes, including the human genome, many scientists have been interested in mating proteins with computer chips because proteins are very specific about which other proteins or biochemicals they will interact with.

Scientists often compare the binding of proteins to a key matching with a lock. By attaching these biological "keys" to computer chips, scientists believe they will be able to detect specific microbes, disease cells and harmful or therapeutic chemicals quickly and cheaply.

Take, for example, a protein that binds to the cell wall of a particular bacterium. That protein could be attached to the biochip. If the bacter

Contact: Steve Tally
Purdue University

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