New DNA tool could speed up vaccine development by a million times

The method provides results within just seven minutes.
Loukia Papadopoulos

The quest for pharmaceutical agents, such as new vaccines, leads industries to routinely scan thousands of related candidate molecules. But what if this process could take place on the nanoscale? Such a breakthrough would significantly minimize the use of materials and energy.

A new tool developed in Denmark allows for more than 40,000 different molecules to be synthesized and analyzed within an area smaller than a pinhead, according to a press statement published by the University of Southern Denmark (SDU). The method, which works by using soap-like bubbles as nano-containers, is set to drastically reduce the amounts of material, energy, and economic cost for pharmaceutical companies by allowing them to speed up their processes by more than one million times.

DNA barcodes

"The technology uses DNA-barcodes similar to barcodes found on all consumer products to follow the identity of all compounds, reagents, and chemical reactions carried out in parallel in thousands of ultra-small nanoreactors," said SDU team leader Stefan Vogel, Associate Professor at the Department of Physics, Chemistry, and Pharmacy.

Head of the team, Nikos Hatzakis, Associate Professor at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen, further compared the reduction in resources to using one liter of water and one kilogram of material instead of the entire volumes of water in all oceans to test material corresponding to the entire mass of Mount Everest. 

A joint multi-disciplinary effort

The breakthrough is a joint effort that required advances from the fields of synthetic biochemistry, nanotechnology, DNA synthesis, combinational chemistry, and even machine learning. The project resulted in the opening of a new frontier in miniaturized chemistry and biochemistry.

"No single element in our solution is completely new, but they have never been combined so seamlessly," further explained Nikos Hatzakis. 

The researchers venture a guess that both industry and academic groups involved in the synthesis of long molecules such as polymers could be among the first to adopt the method. The method can also be integrated further, allowing for the direct addition of a relevant application.

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