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Star technology aids DNA analysis


University of Leicester astronomers and biologists have patented a new way of analysing DNA from gene-chips, which may be used in laboratories and hospitals to diagnose diseases from a single drop of blood and compare gene expression in different samples.

The pioneering technique uses an instrument developed at the European Space Agency’s laboratories in Holland for the study of light from distant galaxies to overcome a problem that has previously dogged gene-chip research.

Gene chips are covered with DNA from thousands of genes, which bind with matching genetic sequences when a sample is poured onto them. Fluorescent tags show where binding has taken place and therefore which genes are active.

Samples have to be tested at the same time and on the same chip, and it is the limitations of the colour coding of these different samples which the new technology has revolutionised.

Biologist Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison, with fellow biologist Dr Trude Schwarzacher and astronomers Professor George Fraser and Dr Andrew Holland, have adapted the space research techniques which use properties of superconductivity and association of electrons at temperatures close to absolute zero to analyse the faint light from areas in the early universe.

The device, known as the superconducting tunnel junction camera (S-cam), allows them to compare accurately four biological samples and they hope to be able to compare seven or more samples in the future.

Professor Heslop-Harrison commented: “We have been looking for better quantitative methods to measure both colour and brightness from multiple probes put onto our biological samples. The new development is unique in measuring colour without filters, gratings or other systems which lose sensitivity and don’t have the colour resolution we need. It looks as though the S-cam will overcome many of the difficulties in measuring data from gene chips so they can reach their full potential as diagnostic and research tools.”

Professor George Fraser added: “The Space Research Centre has been active in transferring detector technologies into the life sciences and medicine for several years, but this is a development with much greater potential than those we have worked on previously. The technical challenges are also the most severe.”

Further information is available from

Professor Pat Heslop-Harrison
Department of Biology, University of Leicester
Tel. 0116 252 5079/3381
Fax 0116 252 2791

or from Professor George Fraser
Space Research Centre, University of Leicester
Tel 0116 252 3542, Fax 0116 252 2464

Ather Mirza | University of Leicester
Further information:

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