Detecting Oestrogen in the Environment
A team of researchers at Victoria University of Wellington have developed a novel sensor that can detect tiny amounts of the hormone oestrogen in environmental samples. Ken McNatty from the School of Biological Sciences is interested in ways of detecting environmental contaminants. “Currently we don’t have sensitive methods of detecting environmental contaminants, so my interest was trying to develop new techniques for detecting trace residues, particularly of organic materials, plasticisers, hormones [and oestrogen mimics] that are in the environment, and being able to monitor them continuously over a long period of time,” says Ken McNatty. “I was interested in developing systems that would be ten to a thousand–fold more sensitive than any current method.” Ken and PhD student Shalen Kumar have been focusing their efforts on developing a PCR-based detection system, but in the meantime Shalen’s work on aptamers has led to the development of a different kind of sensor. Aptamers are single-stranded DNA or RNA molecules that can bind to pre-selected targets including proteins and peptides. They bind tightly and are very specific to particular molecules. Shalen’s work identified an aptamer that detected oestrogen. The idea of aptamers piqued the interest of Justin Hodgkiss from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, and the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. For the full story see Radio New Zealand’s Our Changing World.