Monday, July 30, 2007

Mobile DNA - maybe, maybe, maybe

submit by troym; comments by blogger jgl

I think this lab-on-a-chip idea has been around for a while. If I'm not mistaken, there are some ideas based on SNP analysis, but this seems like true STR work. No new databases needed.

The goal of the new technology is to shorten the time it takes to process DNA samples, so they can be used to identify suspects while a crime scene is still fresh. Currently, samples are processed in a lab, which can take days or weeks. Richard Mathies, a chemistry professor and creator of the device, hopes his technology will cut that down to hours...

...But there's still work to be done, Mathies said, such as integrating the whole process into one machine. The Gattaca Project only performs two of the four steps in DNA analysis...

...The machine is a miniaturized version of what you'd find in a lab, and looks like a black box the size of a briefcase. It uses a microchip and a laser beam the size of hair to measure the length of DNA fragments...

I'm guessing the 2 of 4 steps mentioned are separation and measurement? so it's like a 310 in a box? ... with the other 2 steps being extraction and amplification.

If my assumptions are right, then this is fairly good news. I assume that only "good quality" samples would be analyzed at the scene, so a quick and dirty extraction should be pretty easy. The amping will be tough, especially a "quick" one, but a mobile thermal cycler isn't completely unreasonable. I'm guessing starting out, a full multiplex reaction wouldn't be necessary either... wouldn't just 4 STRs be enough to cut down a list of suspects to a useful number?

Is there more info anywhere? i googled gattaca and didn't come up with much non-ethanhawke material.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Search for Amelia Earhart continues...

by team uab, lsw

A research team from the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) is en route to the South Pacific island of Nikumaroro, where some believe Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan may have become stranded in 1937:

Once at the 2 1/2-mile-long island, the group was to spend 17 days searching for human bones, aircraft parts and any other evidence to try to show that Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, reached the island on July 2, 1937, crashed on a reef at low tide and made it to shore, where they possibly lived for months as castaways, written off by the world as lost at sea.

The team is hoping to build upon previous discoveries on this island, like airplane parts consistent with (but not specifically identifiable as) Earhart's plane. This sounds like fun, BUT...

The conditions during the search will be punishing, with the explorers forced to contend with dense jungle vegetation, 100-degree heat, sharks that reside in a lagoon in the middle of the island and voracious crabs that make it necessary to wear shoes at all times.

However, the crabs, when supplied with pig bones, may actually help the search:

Kar Burns, one of two anthropologists on the team, hopes coconut crabs native to the island — some as big as 2 1/2 feet across — will carry the pig bones to wherever human bones might have been taken by crabs. DNA from human bones could help solve the mystery, [TIGHAR director] Gillespie said.

It's hard to deny that a lot of people still want to know what happened to Earhart. I was wondering how this type of research--which has got to be expensive--gets funded. On its website, TIGHAR states that it is a non-profit organization which relies upon "corporate and individual sponsors". The site has a lot of info, and appears to be worth a look.