A team of researchers at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona has developed new miniature sensors for analysing DNA. The sensors have the same size and thickness as a fingernail and reduce the time needed to identify DNA chains to several minutes or a few hours, depending on each chain. These sensors can be applied to many different tasks, ranging from paternity tests and identifying people to detecting genetically modified food, identifying bacterial strains in foodborne illnesses and testing genetic toxicity in new drugs. Once mass production of the sensors begins, their cost and availability will be similar to that of pregnancy test kits found in pharmacies.
The researchers Salvador Alegret, Manuel del Valle and Maria Isabel Pividori, all of whom are members of the Sensors and Biosensors Group at the UAB’s Department of Chemistry, developed the new sensors based on their experience in research with electrochemical sensors. These can identify a substance by chemically interacting with it and converting this interaction into an electrical current that they measure.
To detect DNA, the new miniaturised electrochemical genosensors have a probe containing DNA fragments that complement the DNA they aim to detect. For example, to detect Salmonella in a sample of mayonnaise, the probe has fragments of the type of DNA that complements that found in a group of genes that identify the bacteria. When the probe is submerged into the mayonnaise, some of the DNA fragments from the bacterial cells join the complementing fragments from the probe, creating a measurable electrical current. The sensor converts this current into a signal that can be seen by the person controlling the tests, making him aware there are bacteria. Also, because the sensors are very small and easy to manipulate, it is possible to assemble a set of sensors that can collect data simultaneously and deduce information about the bacteria such as which strain caused the foodborne illness.
Octavi López Coronado | alfa
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