Quicker, more accurate method of detecting viruses

26 Feb 2009, 2006 hrs IST, IANS

WASHINGTON: Researchers have come up with a faster, more specific method of detecting viruses.

Viruses can be detected in fluids, which is of vital importance in diagnostics. But existing procedures are still too time consuming and labour intensive.

The latest method, developed by Martin Hegner, professor of physics at Trinity College's Centre of Research on Adaptive Nanostructures and Nanodevices (CRANN), shows a more efficient and practical way of detecting viruses by using micro-sized cantilevers.

Micro-cantilevers, which look like springboards are a micrometre thick, and bend in response to different forces. By measuring changes in the frequencies at which these tiny planks vibrate, researchers have turned them into super-sensitive virus weighing scales.

Membrane proteins are the most important target for present-day drug discovery programmes. The interactions between transmembrane protein receptors and their ligands are responsible for viral detection and central to medical research.

However, measuring these interactions is challenging due to the special architecture and consistency of transmembrane proteins in liquids.

For the first time, Hegner and his team have discovered how to perform these measurements in physiological conditions using nanotechnology devices.

Their work shows that nanomechanical sensors based on resonating silicon micro-cantilevers can measure such interactions rapidly in such conditions, said a CRANN release.

The researchers used the protein receptor, FhuA of Escherichia coli known to bind to the T5 virus. Hegner and his colleagues coated the cantilever surfaces with a molecular layer of FhuA proteins sensitised to recognise molecules from the environment.

When the array was submerged in a T5 containing fluid, the researchers detected the virus binding to FhuA by measuring shifts in the vibrational frequency of the cantilevers.