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Researchers in Singapore are reporting development
of a new electronic sensor that shows promise as a faster, less expensive, and
more practical alternative than tests now used to detect DNA. Such tests are
done for criminal investigation, disease diagnosis, and other purposes. The new
lab-on-a-chip test could lead to wider, more convenient use of DNA testing, the
researchers say. Their study is scheduled for the Sept. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society,
a weekly publication.
In the new study, Zhiqiang Gao and colleagues
note that current methods for detecting DNA involve the used of the polymerase
chain reaction (PCR). This technique “amplifies” or makes multiple copies of
trace amounts of DNA, much as a photocopier produces multiple copies of
documents, in order to detect the genetic material more easily. The
amplification step is one reason why tests involving PCR can be too expensive,
cumbersome, and imprecise for wider use.
researchers describe development of a so-called “nanogap sensor” that appears to
overcome those obstacles. The process uses a pair of micro-sized metal
electrodes separated by a nanogap, 1/50,000 the width of a human hair, in
combination with special chemical probes to capture tiny segments of DNA. The
newly formed “circuit” then translates the presence of DNA into an electrical
signal so that it can be measured by a computer. In laboratory tests, the sensor
showed “excellent” sensitivity at detecting trace amounts of human DNA and may
eliminate the need for DNA amplification altogether, the researchers say.
--News release courtesy of American Chemical Society
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