A handheld DNA detector may soon be a reality

DNAWashington, Mar 11: A National University at San Diego researcher has taken a mathematical approach to a biological problem - how to design a portable DNA detector, which can help make life easier for environmental scientists testing contaminated sites.

In the research, Samuel Afuwape of the National University, in San Diego, California, describes a mathematical simulation to show how a new type of nanoscale transistor might be coupled to a DNA sensor system to produce a characteristic signal for specific DNA fragments in a sample.

Clinicians and medical researchers too could use it to diagnose genetic disorders and study problems in genetics.

Such a sensor might also be used to spot the weapons of the bioterrorist or in criminal forensic investigations.

Afuwape suggests that a new type of electronic device, the ion-selective field-effect transistor (ISFET), might be integrated into a DNA biosensor. Such a sensor would be coated with thousands of known DNA sequences that could match up - hybridize - with specific DNA fragments in a given medical or environmental sample.

The key to making the system work is that the ISFET can measure changes in conductivity. Constructing a sensor so that the process of DNA hybridization is coupled to a chemical reaction that generates electricity would produce discrete electronics signals. These signals would be picked up by the ISFET.

The characteristic pattern of the signals would correspond to hybridization of a known DNA sequence on the sensor and so could reveal the presence of its counterpart DNA in the sample.

Afuwape's mathematical work demonstrates that various known chemical reaction circuits involving DNA could be exploited in such a sensor.

"The ISFET is proving to be a powerful platform on which to design and develop selective, sensitive, and fast miniature DNA sensors such portable DNA sensors will find broad application in medical, agriculture, environmental and bioweapons detection,” said Afuwape.

The study is published in the International Journal of Nanotechnology. (ANI)