DNA Dipstick: Diagnose disease with greater ease

DNA Dipstick: Diagnose disease with greater ease

Purification of genetic material — DNA and RNA — from organisms has always been a lengthy, expensive procedure requiring specialized laboratory equipment. While the process might have applications from diagnostics to genotyping, these practical considerations have previously limited its usage. Now, scientists report in PLOS Biology that their revolutionary “dipstick” technology enables DNA and RNA purification from living organisms in under 30 seconds.

In their process, a tissue sample is ground and shaken before the dipstick, made of wax-coated filter paper, is inserted. The nucleic acids bind to the dipstick, are washed and then transferred into a solution ready for DNA amplification. Crucially, as study author Jimmy Botella states, the technology “eliminates the need for a specialized laboratory for sample preparation, and is a lot simpler, faster and cheaper than anything else available.”

The researchers initially developed their dipstick to extract and purify DNA from plants, but found that it can purify both DNA and RNA from a wide range of species including viruses, fungi and bacteria as well as animals. They therefore hope that it could have applications in disease diagnosis: they are currently using the technology to identify human pathogens in food.

The simplicity of the tool, as well as its price – estimated at no more than 15 U.S. cents per sample – could make it invaluable in remote areas where current commercial technologies are impractical: a field hospital, an isolated farm or even the middle of the jungle. Botella is enthusiastic about the possibilities: “We have already successfully used the dipsticks in remote plantations in Papua New Guinea to identify a pathogen that was killing trees… The dipstick technology makes diagnostics accessible to everyone.”

Research Article: Zou Y, Mason MG, Wang Y, Wee E, Turni C, Blackall PJ, et al. (2017) Nucleic acid purification from plants, animals and microbes in under 30 seconds. PLoS Biol 15(11): e2003916. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2003916

Image Credit: Michael Mason


Beth works at PLOS as Journal Media Manager. She read Natural Sciences, specializing in Pathology, at the University of Cambridge before joining PLOS in 2013. She feels fortunate to be able to read and write about the exciting new research published by PLOS.

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