A little sensor can be utilized for fast recognition of RNA and DNA

A little sensor can be utilized for fast recognition of RNA and DNA


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  • Source: American University

  • Date: 06 Mar,2021

In less than a second, a small sensor used in brain chemistry research can detect the key molecules that provide the genetic instructions for life, RNA, and DNA, a new study from American University shows.

The AU researchers believe a sensor is a helpful tool for scientists engaged in clinical research to quantify DNA metabolism, and that the sensor may be a quick way for laboratory clinicians to distinguish’healthy’ from’ill’ samples and determine if a pathogen is fungal, bacterial, or viral, before conducting further analysis.

To explore whether the sensors could detect RNA and DNA, Alexander Zestos, assistant professor of chemistry, teamed up with John Bracht, associate professor of biology, to test a new technique for the detection of RNA and DNA. Both professors are part of AU’s Center for Neuroscience and Behavior, which brings together researchers from a number of fields to investigate the mind and its role in behavior.

The novel electrode steps RNA and DNA
The sensors, also called carbon fiber microelectrodes, allow researchers enjoy Zestos to run exact measurements of chemicals in the brain. Researchers can learn more about the brain’s complex circuitry of neural pathways and neurotransmitters, chemicals in the brain that pass messages along a given pathway.

Zestos and Bracht utilized a normal carbon fiber microelectrode with fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, the identical kind of sensor used to detect dopamine in the brain. Zestos’ work frequently involves using sensors to detect and quantify dopamine in the brain, because the neurotransmitter amounts in a broad range of activity in the nervous system, from bodily movements to psychological responses.

The researchers modified the sensor with a specialized electrode. They weren’t certain that it would work, and were surprised when the electrode, or waveform, detected the oxidative peaks of adenosine and guanosine, two of those building blocks of DNA. Research methods were confirmed using both artificial and animal RNA and DNA.

A study tool and pre-diagnostic
In the near term, Bracht and Zestos envision the instrument as useful in clinical research. Researchers who use the tool could gain useful information about nucleic acids and quantify the relative ratios of adenosine, guanosine, and cytidine, another DNA nucleobase.

About the size of a strand of human hair, the sensor is small enough to implant in tissue, cells, or live organisms. The sensor can detect DNA or RNA in any fluid sample, such as liquid droplets, saliva, blood, or urine.

The sensor could also be utilised as a pre-diagnostic. The onset of disease or fungal disease can cause a quick rise in nucleic acids, which the detector can measure, and possibly predict rapid infections, the researchers said. It may take up to a day or more for results in evaluations for coronavirus, for example.

One current limitation is the sensor will need to detect more than just the strands of DNA and RNA. To detect a particular virus or for genetic testing, the sensor will need to discover the gene sequence of a virus.

The next step in the research will be to modify the sensor further to see if the sensor can detect a virus. The sensor potentially has a variety of applications for which additional research will be necessary, such as within forensic science and other fields where sensors play a prominent role.

“We also have thought about if we can measure DNA metabolism inside living cells and brains,” Bracht said. “We could potentially use one electrode to measure neurotransmitters like dopamine and measure DNA and RNA and their building blocks in real-time in a brain.”

Journal reference:

Asrat, T. M., et al. (2021) Direct Detection of DNA and RNA on Carbon Fiber Microelectrodes Using Fast-Scan Cyclic Voltammetry. ACS Omegadoi.org/10.1021/acsomega.0c04845.

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