ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology


1, Apr 2023

New technology promises rapid and reliable development of new diagnostic tests

Professor Kirill Alexandrov and team have developed a new approach for designing molecular ON-OFF switches based on proteins which can be used in a multitude of biotechnological, biomedical and bioengineering applications.

The research team demonstrated that this novel approach allows to design and build faster and more accurate diagnostic tests for detecting diseases, monitoring water quality and detecting environmental pollutants.

Chief Investigator Professor Kirill Alexandrov, of the QUT School of Biology and Environmental Science, lead scientist on CSIRO-QUT Synthetic Biology Alliance, said that the new technique published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology demonstrated that protein switches could be engineered in a predictable way.

Professor Alexandrov said currently available ‘point of care’ diagnostic tests which provided immediate results, such as blood glucose, pregnancy, and COVID test kits, used protein-sensing systems to detect the presence of sugar, pregnancy hormones, and COVID proteins.

‘These, however, represent only a tiny fraction of what is needed in patient-focused healthcare model,’ Professor Alexandrov said.

‘However, developing new sensing systems is a challenging and time consuming trial-and-error process.

‘The new ‘protein nano-switch’ method can massively accelerate development of similar diagnostics by decreasing the time and increasing the success rate. It uses proteins modified to behave like ON/OFF switches in response to specific targets.

‘The advantage of our approach is that the system is modular, similar to building with Lego bricks, so you can replace parts easily to target something else – another drug or a medical biomarker, for example.”

Professor Alexandrov said the method offered the possibility of building many different diagnostic and analytic tests, with a wide range of possible applications including diagnostics in human and animal health, testing kits for water contamination, and detecting rare earth metals in samples to direct mining efforts.

The multidisciplinary research team included scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology and QUT, consisting of lead researcher Professor Kirill Alexandrov, Dr Zhong Guo, Cagla Ergun Ayva, Patricia Walden and Associate Investigator Professor Claudia Vickers.