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Chemical Biology

A supplement providing a snapshot of the latest developments in chemical biology

Simple stretch for biowarfare detector

04 August 2006

A device that stretches DNA is being used to develop a detector for biowarfare agents.

Jonathan Larson and a team at US Genomics, US, say that characterising DNA, or DNA mapping, could become faster and more cost-effective thanks to their invention. 

The team stretch the DNA by forcing it to flow through a long microfluidic funnel. The extended DNA molecules are easier to analyse than the original DNA, which is coiled in its native state. Huge tracts of DNA can be examined rapidly using conventional detection methods, explained Larson. The approach 'is elegant in its simplicity,' he said. 'Nothing other than a microchip and DNA are required.'

Microfluidic device

"Within fifteen minutes the system will analyse approximately one million long DNA fragments"
'The ultra-high throughput of our approach is inspiring new applications for DNA mapping,' said Larson. He explained how the company has recently been awarded $23M by the US Department of Homeland Security's Advanced Research Projects Agency. It was awarded the funding to develop a detection system for biowarfare agents based on the DNA stretching approach. 'Within fifteen minutes the system will analyse approximately one million long DNA fragments collected from biomaterial in the air.' It will be like 'searching for the needle in the haystack,' said Larson.

Larson said the team have already developed their work by improving the stretching efficiency, increasing throughput and making changes to sample preparation. Collectively, these improvements are 'a big step forward' toward fielding robust, sensitive, and high throughput systems for DNA analysis, he said. 

Katherine Davies


J W Larson, G R Yantz, Q Zhong, R Charnas, C M D'Antoni, M V Gallo, K A Gillis, L A Neely, K M Phillips, G G Wong, S R Gullans and R Gilmanshin, Lab Chip, 2006 
DOI: 10.1039/b602845d