University of British Columbia group takes $10,000 prize home for work on nucleic acids.

The Association for Laboratory Automation reports that the winner of the 2007 $10,000 Innovation Award is Andre Marziali, Ph.D., and his Applied Biophysics team at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada (UBC). The award was presented for “A Powerful New Device and Method for Detecting and Concentrating Nucleic Acids from Complex and Dilute Samples.”

Dr. Marziali notes that detection and purification of nucleic acids remains a challenging task for certain applications where the majority of existing isolation techniques fail for one or more of the following reasons: contaminants that degrade or trap nucleic acids; co-extraction of PCR-inhibiting contaminants; dilute samples, insufficient recovery of high-quality DNA; insufficient extraction of DNA from unculturable organisms for metagenomic analysis; and inability to recover intact high molecular weight DNA (50kb to greater than 1Mb).

His group uses 2-D nonlinear electrophoresis to recover DNA or RNA from as low as zeptomolar concentrations and to recover DNA fragments up to 1Mb in length without shearing, as no centrifugation, filtration, or fluid-flow are necessary. Virtually any fluid sample containing nucleic acids of interest, including cellular lysate (without requiring any filtration to remove cell debris or particulates), can be placed in a loading chamber for concentration.

Nucleic acids are then electrophoretically injected into a concentration medium (typically agarose or polyacrylamide), and time varying electric fields are applied using a novel method called SCODA (Synchronous Coefficient of Drag Alteration) so that nucleic acids migrate toward a common focus location. Since this technique acts only on molecules with highly nonlinear electrophoretic response, it preferentially concentrates nucleic acids over other molecules, including contaminants and salts.

SCODA in its broadest sense is a general method for particle motion developed in the UBC Department of Physics and Astronomy in collaboration with Lorne Whitehead, Ph.D. The research group applied this concept to biomolecule concentration using 2-D electrophoresis, specifically in areas of nucleic acid concentration, metagenomics, prototype development, and I-ZIFE DNA extraction technology development.

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