A new study published in the journal Nature Chemistry reports on the development of a new method that can help researchers analyze a specific segment of DNA and identify a single mutation, leading to better diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and tuberculosis.
"We've really improved on previous approaches because our solution doesn't require any complicated reactions or added enzymes, it just uses DNA," said lead author Georg Seelig, a University of Washington assistant professor of electrical engineering and of computer science and engineering. "This means that the method is robust to changes in temperature and other environmental variables, making it well-suited for diagnostic applications in low-resource settings."
DNA is a type of nucleic acid, the biological molecule that gives all living things their unique genetic signatures. In a double strand of DNA, known as a double helix, a series of base pairs bond and encode our genetic information. As genomics research has progressed, it's clear that a change of just one base pair - a sequence mutation, an insertion or a deletion - is enough to trigger major biological consequences. This could explain the onset of disease, or the reason some diseases don't respond to usual antibiotic treatment.
Take, for example, tuberculosis - a disease that's known to have drug-resistant strains. Its resistance to antibiotics often is due to a small number of mutations in a specific gene. If a person with tuberculosis isn't responding to treatment, it's likely because there is a mutation, Seelig said.