Scientists create universal microbial screening method

Researchers develop platform for non-targeted microbial screening using DNA probes that could identify unknown strains of human bacterial infection.

From left, Richard Baraniuk, Amirali Aghazadeh and Rebekah Drezek from Rice University in Texas

The ability to rapidly detect pathogens during infections is critical, but existing DNA-based approaches require specific genomic probes to target pathogens, and are therefore unsuited to detecting unknown organisms.

In a paper published in Science Advances
(online, 28 September 2016), researchers developed a platform for non-targeted microbial screening that uses randomly generated DNA probes. The method works by quantifying the amount of binding between the probes and the microbial genome — something that varies from organism to organism.

By applying the technique to nine human bacterial infection strains, some of which had unknown DNA sequences, the team showed the method could correctly identify all of the species present using just five randomly generated probes.

The platform works rapidly and, because of its universal nature, could be used to classify both known organisms and novel mutant species, the researchers conclude.


[1] Aghazadeh A, Lin AY, Sheikh MA et al. Universal microbial diagnostics using random DNA probes. Science Advances 2016;2:e1600025. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1600025.

Last updated
Clinical Pharmacist, CP, November 2016, Vol 8, No 11;8(11):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20201883