Scientists at the University of California, Riverside (UCR) have created a chemical nose. If the “pieces” of DNA are folded in an unusual way, the researchers will find out. The development will help in the study of diseases.
Small changes in DNA structure have been linked to breast cancer and other diseases, but until now they have been extremely difficult to detect. Now scientists have solved this problem by creating a chemical nose.
“If the DNA sequence is folded, it will prevent the transcription of a gene associated with a specific region of DNA,” explains study author and UCR chemistry professor Wenwan Zhong. “In other words, this phenomenon has a positive effect – by suppressing a gene that can cause cancer or the development of tumors.”
Conversely, DNA folding can also have a negative effect.
“Turning DNA could potentially interfere with the production of viral proteins to minimize the immune response,” Zhong adds.
To understand how such DNA turns affect living things, positively or negatively, you first need to find them. For these purposes, UCR scientists used (but completely changed) a concept that was previously used to determine the chemical components in different varieties of wines.
The chemicals in the system are designed to search for virtually any target molecule. Usually, however, such a “nose” cannot detect DNA. It was only after scientists added non-standard components to the system that he found the target DNA.
The new chemical “nose” consists of three parts: host molecules, fluorescent guest molecules, and target DNA. When unusual turns are found in DNA, fluorescent molecules light up, alerting scientists to their presence in the sample.
DNA is made up of four nucleic acids: guanine, adenine, cytosine, and thymine. Most of the time, these acids form a double helical structure that resembles a ladder. Guanine-rich patches sometimes rotate differently, creating a so-called G-quadruplex. The parts of the genome that make up these quadruplex structures are extremely complex. In doing so, they regulate gene expression and play a key role in maintaining cell health.
In their work, the researchers wanted to find one specific type of quadruplex, composed of four guanines. They succeeded.
Scientists are soon investigating how DNA damaging forces affect their turns. Biologists will also study RNA folding. The structures of ribonucleic acid are more complex than deoxyribonucleic acid. At the same time, understanding the structure of RNA, which performs important functions in the cell, will advance humanity in the study of diseases, scientists conclude.