DNA networks efficiently target the spike protein and detect the COVID-19 virus at very low levels Get Whole Detail

DNA networks efficiently target the spike protein and detect the COVID-19 virus at very low levels
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Tiny cloths woven from strands of DNA can capture the protein on top of the virus that causes COVID-19, make the virus glow for a quick but sensitive diagnostic test — and also prevent the virus from shutting down infected cells, opening a new possible avenue for antiviral treatment, according to a new study.

Researchers and collaborators from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign demonstrated the ability of DNA networks to detect and prevent COVID-19 in human cell cultures in a paper published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

“This platform combines the sensitivity of PCR with the speed and low cost of antigen testing,” said study leader Xing Wang, professor of bioengineering and chemistry at the University of Illinois. “We need such tests for several reasons. One is to prepare for the next pandemic. The other reason is to track ongoing viral epidemics – not just coronaviruses, but other deadly and economically efficient viruses such as HIV or influenza.”

DNA is best known for its genetic properties, but it can also be folded into tailored nanoscale structures that can perform functions or bind specifically to other structures, just like proteins. The DNA networks developed by the Illinois group were designed to attach to the coronavirus spike protein – the structure that protrudes from the surface of the virus and attaches to receptors on human cells to infect them. Once attached, the cloths emit a fluorescent signal that can be read by an inexpensive handheld device in about 10 minutes.

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The researchers showed that their DNA arrays effectively targeted the spike protein and were able to detect the virus at very low levels, matching the sensitivity of standard PCR assays, which can take a day or more to detect Delivery of results from – a clinical laboratory.

The technique has several advantages, Wang said. It requires no special preparation or equipment and can be performed at room temperature, so all a user needs to do is mix the sample with the solution and read it. The researchers estimated in their study that the method would cost $1.26 per test.

“Another advantage of this measure is that we can detect and distinguish the whole virus that is still infectious from fragments that may no longer be infectious,” Wang said. This not only gives patients and doctors a better understanding of whether they are contagious, but could significantly improve the modeling and tracking of active outbreaks at the community level, such as through sewage.

In addition, the DNA networks inhibited virus spread in live cell cultures, with antiviral activity increasing with the size of the DNA network. This points to the potential of the DNA structures as a therapy, Wang said.

“We had this idea at the very beginning of the pandemic to build a platform to test but also inhibit at the same time,” Wang said. “Many other groups working on inhibitors are trying to coat the whole virus or the parts of the virus that provide access to antibodies. This is not good because you want the body to produce antibodies. With the empty DNA mesh structures, the antibodies can still access the virus.”

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The DNA mesh platform can be adapted to other viruses, Wang said, and even multiplexed so that a single test can detect multiple viruses.

“We’re trying to develop a unified technology that can be used as a plug and play platform. We want to take advantage of the high binding affinity, low detection limit, low cost, and rapid preparation of DNA sensors,” Wang said.

The National Institutes of Health supported this work through the Rapid Diagnostic Acceleration Program. Researchers will continue to work as part of the RADx program to explore and accelerate clinical applications for the DNA mesh platform.

Wang is also associated with the Holonyak Micro and Nanotechnology Lab and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology in Illinois.


University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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