Top science stories from 2016

Science of the Future

From the development of novel biosensors to high-throughput fingerprint analysis, we believe we are approaching one of the most exciting times in analytical science.  We like to engage with scientists on a regular basis to ensure we are up to date with what challenges they face, and therefore thought we would detail some of the most interesting pieces of research we have come across and the top science stories from 2016.   Research that, to us, represents developments that we feel just might prove significant in the years to come.

1.    Development of biosensors for bacterial detection

With the rise of multiple-drug resistant bacteria now reaching an unprecedented level, steps may have to be taken to improve methods for the prevention of bacterial infection, particularly for the most vulnerable among us. The development of effective biosensors offers practical applications for monitoring patients that may be susceptible to infection, and even have non-medical uses, such as process monitoring in material industries.

Label-free biosensors use built-in receptors for the detection of molecules in a particular sample, which can provide a plethora information regarding the presence of a particular substance/microorganism, the substance concentration, and even the target molecule’s binding mechanics.

In June, researchers in China developed an easy to use electrochemiluminescent biosensor for the detection of Staphylococcus aureus – based on the interaction between S. aureus cell wall proteins and the receptor molecules on the biosensor. S. aureus – although common on skin and colonising approximately one-third of the population asymptomatically – has been known to cause serious disease, and methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) has long been deemed a ‘superbug’.

Staphylococcus aureus – normally asymptomatic, but potentially life threatening to the most vulnerable among us.
Staphylococcus aureus – normally asymptomatic, but potentially life threatening to the most vulnerable among us.

Technology like this may one day pave the way towards a new era of medicine, whereby doctors can rely on rapid, easy to use detection methods for some of the world’s most dangerous bacteria.

2.    Antitumor potential for toxins tested in mice

Fusariotoxins are mycotoxins produced by members of the fungal species Fusarium, which have considerable variability in terms of their toxicity. Fusariotoxins Enniatin B (Enn B) Beauvericin (Bea) have recently garnered interest because of their presence as food contaminants, and potential as cancer treatments. Because limited data are available regarding the toxic profile of Enn B and Bea, researchers at the university of Valencia and the University of Vienna aimed to assess the pharmacological behaviour of them in mouse models.

The team developed a liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) method of analysing the toxins’ distribution in the mice, and found no systemic toxicity. They did however identify an interesting pattern of distribution for the toxins. The toxins tended to bioaccumilate in in lipophilic tissue – the highest concentrations having been found in the liver and fat. The study also indicated that the liver and colon were involved in the metabolic activation of Enn B: phase I metabolites for the toxin having been detected in the mice. This means enzymes from the liver have actively altered the structure of the toxin, a process that occurs often, and even leads to the body developing carcinogens from potentially safe ‘pre-carcinogens’ absorbed through the diet or smoking.

Understanding the way in which a potential toxins act once they have gained entry into the body is a vital step in understanding the damage they can potential cause, and the ways in which they may be counteracted. There are often additional benefits to this sort of in-depth characterisation of potential toxins. This study also showed accumulation of the toxins at known tumour sites, highlighting their potential as anti-cancer therapies – the initial hurdle for which is ensuring the drug has a proclivity for accumulating at the tumour site.  Laboratory water plays a key role in LC-MS systems, be it in the preparation of mobile phase or washing of the reagent containers, water free of contamination is essential for ensuring the integrity of experimental results in a technique that is already highly sensitive.

3.    New system for high throughput fingerprint analysis in forensic science

Liquid extraction surface analysis (LESA) is a fairly new mass spectrometry- based surface profiling technique whereby a sample droplet is deposited onto (and held in contact with) a surface using a pipette tip, before being re-aspirated. This technique requires very little sample concentrations, and has very high sensitivity, which has positioned it as a potentially strong technique for the analysis of trace materials – making it a useful technique for forensic analysis.

Using LESA as a basis, researchers have developed a series of assays for the routine analysis of proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, and other compounds that are commonly found in fingerprints. Techniques like this may be useful in the chemical profiling of latent fingerprints using the high-throughput and hugely specific mass-spectrometry based techniques, which will account for the shortfalls of conventional techniques.

So there you have it, 3 stores from 2016 that caught out attention. We hope you agree that this year has already been chock full of great scientific research, and long may it continue!




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