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"DNA D.E.T.E.C.T.R." -- The Discovery Files

The Discovery Files
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A diagnostic system called the DNA Endonuclease Targeted CRISPR Trans Reporter, or DETECTR, could make possible quick and easy point-of-care detection of even small amounts of DNA in clinical samples. Using DETECTR, scientists were able to demonstrate accurate detection of the "high-risk" HPV types 16 and 18 in samples infected with many different HPV types, and it could possibly help detect cancer.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

It's in our DNA.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Researchers at UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco have developed a medical diagnostic system that analyzes human samples of DNA to detect cancer, infections, even defective genes. Officially known as the "DNA Endonuclease Targeted Crispr Trans Reporter," or "DETECTR" for short.

In 2012, the discovery of a DNA-cutting protein named Crispr-Cas9 revolutionized biological research. The new diagnostic system relies on a more recently-discovered DNA-cutter called Crispr-Cas12a.

The scientists created guide molecules that tell Cas12a what to look for. But the key to DETECTR was actually found by chance. The researchers' natural curiosity about these gene-cutting proteins led them to discover what's basically a side-effect: once Cas12a finds its DNA target, it starts slicing up any single strands of DNA that are nearby. DETECTR uses a single strand of DNA to link two molecules: one that glows and one that prevents it from glowing. When Cas12a slices the DNA strand, the molecule is free to glow, telling researchers "target found."

A chance finding of a side-effect -- makes possible a promising medical diagnostic tool. Curiosity is in our DNA.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

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