From bacteria to us, human beings- were all made up of genes that contain our DNA. This DNA is made up of four chemical compounds, called “bases,” whose order determines the organism’s genetic inheritance. This sequence combined gives the blueprint for the evolution of each organism and dictates its genetic function and evolution.
This process of DNA sequencing can be used to reveal a pathogen’s every move, whether offensive or defensive, says Northeastern University’s Distinguished Professor of Biology, Slava Epstein. In collaboration with Broad Institute’s Paul Blainey, he developed a new technology that could accelerate both the discovery of new antibiotics that kill pathogens without encountering resistance and the diagnosis of specific pathogens causing disease, enabling fast and targeted treatments.
“In the case of a bacterium, a particular sequence might code for a natural compound that kills other bacteria or, conversely, one that ensures its survival in the face of an attack from others. The killer compound could be a candidate for a new antibiotic, the protector compound the source of a bacterium’s antibiotic resistance, letting clinicians know which drugs not to prescribe if it hits,” explains Epstein.
The spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major problem of the current world, and for years scientists have struggled with the preparation of the DNA itself to examine. The research team’s new lab-on-a-chip permits the screening of not only many more pathogens in record time at a lower cost but also multitudes of pathogens that until now have not been available for analysis.
“In the past, researchers had to grow massive amounts of bacteria and extract, purify, fragment, tag, and sort massive amounts of DNA from them, a costly and time-consuming process. This new system reduces the amount of DNA required 100-fold. We can use a tiny number of cells—even 10,000 is enough—and produce superior sequencing analyses,” explains Epstein.
The problems of bacterial outspread is a critical concern. It can directly affect a nation’s or the world’s mortality. Epstein hopes that they can minimise the corresponding public health issues and societal implications with their research coupled with power precision medicine, genomic surveillance, antibiotic-resistance tracking, and novel organism/natural product discovery made possible by the new technology.