New Nanomapping Technology Diagnoses Genetic Mutations

A team of scientists, led by Virginia Commonwealth University physicist Jason Reed, Ph.D., have developed new nanomapping technology that could transform the way disease-causing genetic mutations are diagnosed and discovered.

Discover and Diagnose Disease-Causing Genetic Mutations

A study published in the journal Nature Communications describes this as a novel approach using high-speed atomic force microscopy (AFM) combined with a CRISPR-based chemical barcoding technique to map DNA nearly as accurately as DNA sequencing while processing large sections of the genome at a much faster rate. The most interesting part? This technology can be powered by parts found in your average DVD player.

Speeding Up the Process

DNA sequencing is so precise that it can analyze individual base pairs of DNA. In order to analyze large sections of a genome to find genetic mutations, technicians must determine millions of tiny sequences and then piece them together with computer software. Reed’s new high-speed AFM method can map DNA to a resolution of tens of base pairs while creating images up to a million base pairs in size. It does all this using only a fraction of the amount of specimen required for DNA sequencing.

How it Works

CRISPR is an enzyme that scientists “program” using targeting RNA in order to cut DNA at precise locations that the cell then repairs on its own. Reed’s team altered the chemical reaction conditions of the CRISPR enzyme so that it only sticks to the DNA and does not actually cut it. Because the CRISPR enzyme is a protein that’s physically bigger than the DNA molecule, it’s perfect for this barcoding application. Amazingly, this method is nearly 90 percent efficient at bonding to DNA molecules. So, basically, CRISPR make the DNA molecule easier to see so this approach can bridge the gap between DNA sequencing and physical mapping techniques that lack resolution.

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