DoD basic research discovers new spectroscopic signatures from the 'Stuff of Life'

May 8, 2012 By Jim Hannah, Wright State University
Physics professor Elliott Brown and graduate student Anna Lukawska work in the lab on nanobiological characterizations.

There is hardly a greater discovery during the past century than DNA–deoxyribonucleic acid–the biomolecular material in every cell of the human body. DNA contains the genetic information necessary for cell replication, protein synthesis and reproduction.

Naturally, sensing and identification has become a very important technology in such areas as biology, medicine and law enforcement. But positive identification without ambiguity is difficult because DNA is so sparse in the human organism and because it shares many of the same chemical bonds as other more common biomolecules–proteins and polysaccharides.

So traditional spectroscopic methods, such as infrared transmission, cannot distinguish DNA from these other molecules. More elaborate techniques are necessary, such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) followed by gel electrophoresis, which are expensive and time-consuming.

Fortunately, the large size of DNA molecules makes them amenable to other spectroscopic methods in the THz region of the electromagnetic spectrum–a region well below the infrared in frequency but well above common radio and radar frequencies.

Wright State University researchers led by physics professor Elliott Brown have been investigating these unique THz DNA signatures through a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) funded by the U.S. Army Research Office. Their multi-year $600,000 grant has recently identified several unique and surprisingly strong signatures from DNA molecules between 0.7 and 1.0 THz.

“The surprise is that we have recently measured these DNA signatures under physiological conditions in which the DNA was suspended in an aqueous buffer solution very similar to that in living cells,” Brown said. “Previously, the strong THz absorption by liquid water was thought to be too strong to observe signatures from any suspended molecular species.”

So far, Brown said, the signatures appear unique to the DNA molecule at hand, be it single-stranded or double-stranded DNA.

“The caveat is that so far we have only observed relatively short DNA strands well under the length of the human genome,” he said. “But we are moving in that direction.”

The research project is headed by the University of California-Irvine, and along with Wright State University has collaborators at Marshall University, Yale University and the University of Chicago. The MURI Grant funds the research for up to five years.

Explore further: Nanoparticles offer insights into interactions between single-stranded DNA and their binding proteins

Related Stories

DNA falls apart when you pull it

May 20, 2011

DNA falls apart when you pull it with a tiny force: the two strands that constitute a DNA molecule disconnect. Peter Gross of VU University Amsterdam has shown this in his PhD research project. With this research, researchers ...

DNA 'off switch' may reverse premature aging

June 15, 2011

The secret to preventing or reversing premature aging may be found in a DNA “off switch” that humans share with common yeast, according to new research from the University of Toronto.

The next computer: your genes

May 16, 2011

( -- "Human beings are more or less like a computer," Jian-Jun Shu tells "We do computing work, and our DNA can be used in computing operations." Shu is a professor at the School of Mechanical and ...

Recommended for you

In colliding galaxies, a pipsqueak shines bright

February 20, 2019

In the nearby Whirlpool galaxy and its companion galaxy, M51b, two supermassive black holes heat up and devour surrounding material. These two monsters should be the most luminous X-ray sources in sight, but a new study using ...

When does one of the central ideas in economics work?

February 20, 2019

The concept of equilibrium is one of the most central ideas in economics. It is one of the core assumptions in the vast majority of economic models, including models used by policymakers on issues ranging from monetary policy ...

Research reveals why the zebra got its stripes

February 20, 2019

Why do zebras have stripes? A study published in PLOS ONE today takes us another step closer to answering this puzzling question and to understanding how stripes actually work.

Correlated nucleons may solve 35-year-old mystery

February 20, 2019

A careful re-analysis of data taken at the Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility has revealed a possible link between correlated protons and neutrons in the nucleus and a 35-year-old mystery. ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.