Scientists claim to be able to perform complex genetic tests on a piece of paper. But would it be as easy as taking a pregnancy test? That is precisely what it intends James Collins, a synthetic biologist from Boston University, who acknowledges being able to print the components on paper to perform DNA tests, freeze them (dry them using low temperatures) and use them up to a year later.
As Collins and his Harvard colleagues explained to the Cell newspaper, we could be talking about bandages that change color if an infection is developing, clothing with environmental sensors or inexpensive diagnostic tests to detect viruses such as Ebola.
Although diagnostic tests on paper are not new, they have always been based on traditional chemistry, in the same way that pregnancy tests do. However, Collins claims his method comes close to induced genetic reactions.
Julius Luck, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering at Cornell University, considers it "A very important and practical advance."
The technology used is an adaptation of the method known as "Cell-free system", in which the basic processes of a cell, such as reading a DNA strand and creating a protein, are carried out in a test tube. The novelty that collins introduces is to embed these cell-free systems in porous paper.
Collins showed that the system could detect Ebola. By adding fragments of the Ebola genetic code (RNA) to the paper strips, the genetic material completed a "circuit" generating a protein that stained the paper, causing this, in about an hour, will acquire a purple hue.
Although to use these tests On paper, laboratory experience is needed, for example, to isolate the genetic material of a virus or bacteria, Collins assures that they are very cheap. Estimate that each detection strip would cost between 4 and 65 cents and it would take a day or less to produce.
Lingchong You, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Duke University, believes that "It's something great and conceptually very simple."