DNA barcodes that reliably work: A game-changer for biomedical research
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IMAGE: This illustration shows the most common structure of DNA found in a cell, called B-DNA. view more 

Credit: Richard Wheeler (Zephyris). Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license.

In the same way that barcodes on your groceries help stores know what’s in your cart, DNA barcodes help biologists attach genetic labels to biological molecules to do their own tracking during research, including of how a cancerous tumor evolves, how organs develop or which drug candidates actually work. Unfortunately with current methods, many DNA barcodes have a reliability problem much worse than your corner grocer’s. They contain errors about 10 percent of the time, making interpreting data tricky and limiting the kinds of experiments that can be reliably done.

Now researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a new method for correcting the errors that creep into DNA barcodes, yielding far more accurate results and paving the way for more ambitious medical research in the future.

The team — led by postdoctoral researcher John Hawkins, professor Bill Press and assistant professor Ilya Finkelstein — demonstrated that their new method lowers the error rate in barcodes from 10 percent to 0.5 percent, while working extremely rapidly.

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