Pinpointing Infections

'Sensor' makes bacteria, fungi and viruses glow

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MONDAY, March 29, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- A combination of tiny amounts of gold and a genetic "hairpin probe" causes bad bacteria, fungi and viruses to glow, providing an inexpensive and easy-to-use way of detecting potentially fatal infections.

This "sensor," developed by University of Rochester (N.Y.) scientists, may also provide doctors with new ways to identify and diagnose diseases.

"In our chip, a DNA hairpin probe carrying a fluorescent marker is attached to a tiny piece of gold. The gold normally short-circuits the fluorescent part of the probe, but when it detects a dangerous virus, fungus or bacterium, the probe attaches itself using the DNA," researcher Benjamin L. Miller says in a prepared statement.

"As the probe attaches itself, the hairpin-shaped DNA is straightened out, allowing it to fluoresce. We can immediately detect the glow using light-sensitive equipment, warning us about the infection," Miller says.

In laboratory research, he and his colleagues have shown this technique can detect Staphylococcus aureus, a drug-resistant strain of bacteria that's a major cause of infections in hospital patients.

The research will be presented March 30 at the meeting of the Society for General Microbiology in Bath, England. The University of Rochester scientists plan to seek permission to begin clinical trials on the sensor.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has information about microbes.

SOURCE: Society for General Microbiology, news release, March 29, 2004

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