To be able to measure the occurrence and activity in biological molecules is central to medical research and diagnostics, drug development, environmental research, and research on biological weapons. But certain questions cannot truly be addressed, since there are no methods for measuring what scientists would like to measure. Uppsala University boasts the world’s leading research on developing such new molecular methods.
The method now being published in the prestigious journal Nature Methods can analyze specific gene fragments or proteins in a new way: it actually measures their number rather than their concentration. In theory this means extremely high sensitivity and precision, and several different molecules can be analyzed at the same time.
“This is precisely what scientists need to analyze biomolecules. The method is a tool for research and diagnostics that we believe will have a tremendous impact on a number of fields in life science. The precision of this method has the potential to beat all existing methods,” says Associate Professor Mats Nilsson, who led the study.
For instance, today it is difficult to determine the number of genetic copies. Previously it has been believed that all humans have the same number of all genes, but today we know that they occur in varying numbers in different individuals and that this fact can be tied to diseases or ‘normal’ biological traits, such as color vision. Another difficult area has to do with being able to uncover biological weapons, such as viruses or bacteria. In that case we seldom know what we’re looking for, so we have to apply a broad spectrum of tests. The research team’s new method has been tested on bacteria sample, and the results show that it can distinguish the pathogenic bacterium Vibrio cholera from another bacterium that is extremely similar.
“It’s important to show that it works on something ‘real.’ This method is general, so it facilitates searches for ‘needles in haystacks,’” says Mats Nilsson.
The project has been funded by the Swedish Defense Department’s nanotechnology program, Uppsala BioX, and the EU project MolTools.