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U of Bristol and VCU researchers collaborate on DNA microscope built on components from a DVD player

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: December 6th, 2017

Researchers at the University of Bristol and Virginia Commonwealth University are using laser and optic components found in a common DVD player to create a new nanomapping microscope.

The technology, known as an atomic force microscope (AFM), is designed to detect and “barcode” genetic mutations that cause disease. It maps hundreds of chemically identifiable DNA molecules per second using the CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing method, and is capable of creating images up to a million base pairs in size. This unmatched speed and resolution enables the technology to be used for real-world DNA diagnostics for the first time.

“Although other types of microscopes have the resolution to see these DNA molecules, they are thousands of times slower, and it would take years to make a confident diagnosis,” says Oliver Payton, a researcher at the University of Bristol and co-inventor of the AFM technology. “Not only is our microscope perfect for these medical applications, but because of the readily available DVD components, it can be mass produced.”

Led by professor Jason Reed, the VCU research team developed the chemical barcoding method by altering the gene editing characteristics of the CRISPR enzyme so that it sticks to DNA molecules without cutting them.

“We were amazed to discover this method is nearly 90% efficient at bonding to the DNA molecules,” says Reed. “And because it’s easy to see the CRISPR proteins, you can spot genetic mutations among the patterns in DNA.”

The University of Bristol team is also using the microscope to address a range of nanoscale challenges in fields such as 2D materials, corrosion, and life sciences. The technology is being commercialized by Bristol Nano Dynamics, a spinout from the university.

Source: University of Bristol News

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