A tool based on CRISPR has been shown to detect the Zika virus in blood, urine and saliva. It was developed by researchers at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who call it SHERLOCK – for Specific High Sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter Unlocking.
The SHERLOCK tool works by making RNA copies of DNA. It then uses CRISPR to search for specific genetic sequences. Once found, an enzyme causes fluorescence, signalling the detection of the desired target.
As well as Zika virus, the team has also used SHERLOCK to detect antibiotic resistance genes in Klebsiella pneumoniae bacteria, and health-related gene variants in human saliva. The researchers were able to use the system to identify cancer-causing mutations in samples of genetic material they created to mimic what is found in the blood – suggesting that it could be used as a tool for understanding cancer too.
“As the next epidemic or viral threat comes up – for example, the next Zika or Ebola – we think there’s a lot of utility in using this for better surveillance for those outbreaks,” says Jonathan Gootenberg, another team member.
[Read the full study here (behind paywall)]
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