A team of researchers at Iowa State University, Ames, has devised a way to spot DNA from a single particle of human papilloma virus (HPV), which can cause cervical cancer.
The researchers apply a sample from a cervical smear to a slide covered with copies of a DNA sequence that is complementary to part of the HPV DNA. They say that HPV DNA in the sample then sticks to the slide.
Thereafter, the researchers add copies of a second sequence that sticks to HPV and is bound to a fluorescent molecule, which shows up each virus particle as a spot of light.
The technique is 10 to 50 times more sensitive than today's HPV tests, and can help detect earlier stages of infection.
It might also be adapted to detect flu, reports New Scientist magazine.