Sensors that detect DNA sequences are useful
for identifying pathogens, and handheld DNA detectors would be useful
for disease diagnostics, biodefense and education.
Today's laboratory DNA detectors amplify, or make many copies
of a sample in order to get enough DNA to analyze. However, this replication
process -- polymerase chain reaction (PCR) -- includes a heating cycle
for separating DNA strands. The heating cycle requires a lot of energy.
Researchers from New England Biolabs have devised a method that
copies the way DNA is replicated biologically in order to avoid the energy-intensive
heating and cooling process.
The method allows the entire detection process to take place at
one temperature, and could enable handheld detectors that require little
Biological DNA uses various molecules, including polymerases,
accessory proteins and DNA helicase to carry out the replication process,
with the helicase separating double-stranded DNA.
The researchers' helicase-dependent amplification (HDA) technique
uses helicase to produce single strands, which are then copied using a
The researchers are working on a lab kit that could be used in
schools and are also working on an all-in-one handheld device that could
be used in the field.
The method could be used practically within three years, according
to the researchers. The work appeared in the August, 2004 issue of European
Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Reports.
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