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"Smelling" when DNA are folding would have immense implications in detecting severe illnesses, such as breast cancer. This would provide proper care and treatment even at the onset of the disease.

In the study, "Selective discrimination and classification of G-quadruplex structures with a host-guest sensing array," published in Nature Chemistry, chemists at the University of California - Riverside developed what they described as a "chemical nose" which could "sense" changes in the DNA structure, particularly the folding of the DNA sequence.

Positive, Negative Effect of DNA Folding

While such folding could have a positive effect, such as preventing a gene from having a potential to promote tumors that would lead to cancer, there is likewise a negative effect. This could also possibly prevent production of viral proteins and this would affect immune response, according to UCR chemistry professor and study author Wenwan Zhong in a Phys.Org article.

Having this dual effect would need immediate detection to analyze how such DNA folds could make an impact. To achieve this, scientists modified a concept previously applied to sense such things as chemical components in wine.

G-quadruplex
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Chemicals in this system could be designed to find any specific molecule. This "nose" however could not spot DNA. Because of this, researchers added non-standard components to allow this nose to sense its target.

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"Chemical Nose" has Multiple Receptors to Detect DNA Folds

Humans would smell scents as they inhale air that contains odor molecules that stick to multiple receptors inside the nose. UCL organic chemistry professor Richard Hooley, whose team developed this chemical nose said that the system is similar since it has multiple receptors that interact with the DNA folds being searched.

This chemical nose is made of host molecules, fluorescent guest molecules, and DNA, which is the system's target, a Science Daily article said. When folds are present, the fluorescent guest glows, notifying scientists of its existence.

DNA is composed of the nuclei acids cytosine, thymine, guanine, and adenine. These acids normally form a double helix akin to a ladder. Guanin-rich parts would at times fold in an unusual manner, forming a G-quadruplex.

Areas of the genome that create these quadruplexes are tremendously complex, but researchers found out that such folds regulate gene expression, which maintains the good health of cells.

Successfully Spotting a G-quadruplex Fold

In this experiment, researchers sought to present that they could spot a certain type of quadruplex that is made of four guanines. And they succeeded, with researchers using their accomplishments to try to understand other three-dimensional DNA structures.

These researchers will also try to see how forces that destroy DNA would impact the way they fold. In addition, they would also focus on RNA folding because RNA does crucial functions as well. RNA, Zhong further said, is even more complex than DNA and has been a challenge to analyze, but understanding the structure of RNA would greatly benefit disease research.

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Check out more news and information on DNA Structures on Science Times