Enzymes from Yellowstone National Park’s thermal features are the basis of a potential Ebola field diagnosis tool — the first of its kind that could be key in containing spread of the disease.
Middleton (Wis.)-based Lucigen Corp. is seeking emergency U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for a new portable Ebola diagnostic tool that can be used anywhere in the field. Though Lucigen is seeking emergency approval, the tool has been in development for a decade, since researchers with the firm began using enzymes found in Yellowstone National Park thermals, including Octopus Spring (found in the Lower Geyser Basin), as the basis for research. From the Wisconsin State Journal:
Derived from enzymes discovered in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park more than a decade ago, the test already is being tried in parts of West Africa where Ebola has spread. A U.S. government agency is evaluating its performance against other tests, said Hemanth Shenoi, Lucigen’s director of business development. He declined to say which agency.
“In cases like Ebola, time is of the essence,” Shenoi said. He said Lucigen has been in discussions with the FDA over the past week but does not know how soon a decision may come.
Here’s a description of the research carried out by Lucigen using the Yellowstone enzyme:
Traditional cultivation-based methods have not yielded thermophilic phage DNA polymerases. We used a nontraditional approach of screening metagenomic libraries constructed from phage isolated from hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. In collaboration with DOE’s Joint Genome Institute, we sequenced nearly 30,000 clones, resulting in the identification of hundreds of apparent DNA polymerase homologs, 59 of which appear full length. Ten of these have been expressed to produce thermostable DNA polymerases. Of these, clone 3173 has been developed as the first PyroPhage DNA polymerase.
The new testing platform stems from a novel enzyme that Lucigen officials discovered from a visit to Yellowstone a few years ago, said spokesman Curtis Knox. He said the enzyme can multiply either DNA or RNA, which is unusual, and can do so at a steady temperature. Common procedures involve cycling temperatures up and down to copy DNA or RNA.
“To have only one temperature makes the instrumentation that you would use … much simpler,” Knox said. It also speeds up reaction time, he said.
If you’re into a more detailed description of the research on microbes used from Yellowstone’s Octopus Spring, here’s a PLOS ONE article.
Image of Octopus Spring courtesy National Park Service.