A team led by the University of California San Diego has developed a chip that can detect a type of genetic mutation known as a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) and send the results in real time to a smartphone, computer, or other electronic device. The chip is at least 1,000 times more sensitive at detecting an SNP than current technology.

The advance, published July 9 in Advanced Materials, could lead to cheaper, faster and portable biosensors for early detection of genetic markers for diseases such as cancer.

An SNP is the change in a single nucleotide base (A, C, G or T) in the DNA sequence. It is the most common type of genetic mutation. While most SNPs have no discernible effect on health, some are associated with increased risk of developing pathological conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Traditional SNP detection methods have several limitations: they have relatively poor sensitivity and specificity; they require amplification to get multiple copies for detection; they require the use of bulky instruments; and they cannot work wirelessly.

The new DNA biosensor developed by the UC San Diego-led team is a wireless chip that’s smaller than a fingernail and can detect an SNP that’s present in picomolar concentrations in solution.

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