When CRISPR met graphene: a new device allows detecting genetic mutations directly and in less than an hour

When Marvel said that "Infinity War was the most ambitious crossover in history", of course this was not expected: 'CRISPR' and 'graphene' united in a single device capable of performing DNA tests in a handful of minutes .

In a world where DNA analysis is in the midst of "democratization" it seems like nothing from the other Thursday. However, the really interesting thing about the CRISPR-Chip is something else: the idea of ​​detecting DNA without having to amplify it. Something that lays the foundations for almost completely new technological developments in order to quickly diagnose genetic diseases or assess the precision of genetic modification techniques.

What does it mean to detect DNA without amplification?

Looking for a mutation in DNA is like looking for a tiny needle in a terribly small haystack. So in the 1980s, Kary Mullis developed what is known as a "polymerase chain reaction," PCR. A technique that allows ** obtaining a large number of copies of a particular DNA fragment ** from a single copy of the original fragment.

In other words, it is a technique that allows you to amplify a DNA fragment and thus makes it easier to find the happy nano-needle in the huge micro-haystack. PCR was revolutionary to a point difficult to imagine: much of what we do today with DNA (from sequencing a sample to identifying Jack the Ripper) works thanks to this technique, thanks to which Mallis won the Nobel Prize in 1993 .

The work published today by Kiana Aran in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering (and in which the University of Navarra collaborates) tries to approach the problem of detecting specific DNA mutations in a different way, based more on electronic engineering than on biology. molecular. Different, although not strictly new.

The idea was to combine the search precision of CRISPR and the ultrasensitivity of graphene to build a mechanism capable of using them at the same time. To do this, the authors designed a chip that integrated Cas9 proteins with the RNA of the mutation to look for in plates made of graphene. In this way, when the DNA sample is introduced, the proteins search for the target mutation and, if it exists, bind to it. This changes the conductivity of the graphene device allowing us to detect the mutation.

It is not a theoretical idea

Although the device is in its early stages, researchers have not only presented a proof of concept, but have also tested the efficacy of the system in cases of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disorder that produces progressive muscle degeneration and significantly reduces hope. of life.

"We have shown that our system is sufficient for genetic mutation testing. Now we need to improve the system to detect infections," says Aran. And the truth is that, at least with the data we have, it looks promising. It remains to be seen if by this line of work we can create the genetic equivalent to test strips: cheap, reliable chips capable of bringing precision medicine to clinics around the world.

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