One day, a few years from now, your visit to the doctor’s office may include a step on the office scale, a quick check of your temperature and a scan of your entire DNA just to be safe.
When that day comes, you may thank the research teams that are working now to deliver fast, cheap genomes.
Dmitri Vezenov, assistant professor of chemistry, and his research group are part of a world community of researchers working on such an advanced sequencing technology.
Recently, they reached a milestone when Vezenov was awarded U.S. Patent No. 7,892,739 for a quicker, more efficient method of sequencing DNA.
Human DNA and its 3 billion chemical base pairs hold the key to a healthy future. With the blueprint for humanity decoded, researchers will be able to discover the mutations that cause neurodegenerative disease, the miracle drugs that could fight cancer, and the genetic markers that signal future risk for heart disease.
Vezenov has figured out a faster, cheaper way to get that information. Put simply, he has created a system that reads long sequences of nucleotides, the building blocks of DNA, by looking at their physical properties.
‘The promise of personalized, affordable medicine’
Traditional methods may look at nucleic acids one at a time, or copy segments, dye them bright colors, separate, and count them up. Vezenov extracts the sequences by adding short DNA fragments complementary to the target nucleic acid, which bind to or release from DNA, and measures changes in forces on the DNA molecules as they increase in length.
Vezenov uses force spectroscopy, known in labs as “magnetic tweezers” to accomplish this task, but not the one-molecule-at-a-time way in which it was traditionally performed. His method couples and measures multiple oligonucleotides and DNA strands simultaneously, amounting to the identification of millions of base pairs at the same time using arrays of single molecules.
Processing speed is a primary advantage. A single researcher employing the traditional Sanger DNA sequencing method would have needed many years to sequence a single human genome.
Cost is another factor. The person or company that can deliver low-cost genomic sequencing will, in Vezenov’s words, “give the promise of personalized, affordable medicine.”
Vezenov’s method is on the right track. His technique does not require labeling of nucleotide bases, nucleotide separation or amplification (the copying of strings of DNA), which are all expensive, time-consuming steps. But knowing how much this technique will actually cost is a guessing game until more research is completed.
Vezenov’s research centers on direct manipulation of biomolecules, new tools for research into biological processes, and the assembly of functional nanomaterials.
It’s the interdisciplinary approach that allowed for this invention, which required a firm understanding of how molecules interact, how the world’s latest technology can solve a problem, and how nanoscale tools can provide a quick blueprint for the human body and mind.
There’s nothing simple about Vezenov’s system, or the DNA blueprint that makes us up. Take two people from opposite ends of the earth and their DNA is less than 1 percent different.
Story by Jordan Reese
Posted on Friday, May 06, 2011