Fighting oral bacteria is elementary with SHERLOCK-based detection tool
Thanks to a novel tool that detects bacteria in saliva using SHERLOCK, the evolution of CRISPR, you may soon be able to leave the dentist after a checkup with more comprehensive information about the health of your mouth. The accurate tool is much faster than existing methods and may lead to the early detection and treatment of mouth and other diseases.
Researchers from the Forsyth Institute, Massachusetts, have adapted the gene-editing CRISPR-based technology to identify oral bacteria in around 30 minutes.
Oral health is a key indicator of overall health. Previous studies have shown that the microorganisms in your mouth play a role in oral diseases such as cavities and gum disease. There is also an association between oral health and other diseases, such as heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, and cancer.
The gene-editing technology CRISPR has been responsible for many advancements in biomedicine. An evolution of CRISPR, SHERLOCK (Specific High-sensitivity Enzymatic Reporter unLOCKing) is a diagnostic tool that’s recently arrived on the scene. It can detect the unique genetic fingerprints encoded in almost any DNA or RNA sequence from any organism or pathogen. It works by programming special CRISPR-Cas enzymes to detect a specific nucleic acid (involved in storing and expressing genomic information). The CRISPR-Cas enzyme is activated when the nucleic acid is identified, generating a fluorescent signal.
The Cas9 enzyme is generally used with CRISPR. Here, using SHERLOCK, the researchers used Cas13a to target four bacteria known to cause oral diseases. The researchers say it’s the first time SHERLOCK has been applied to the detection of oral bacteria.
“Targeted treatments are only possible when you know which bugs are in the mouth,” said Batbileg Bor, corresponding author of the study. “Currently, available tests on the market are either low sensitivity or require analysis at an expensive centralized laboratory. It can take months to get the results. The studied detection tool solves both problems, featuring high sensitivity, low-cost tests with rapid results.”
All that’s required is a sample of saliva spit into a tube. The saliva can be tested ‘as is’ and doesn’t need to be cleaned or processed before testing. The researchers tested their novel tool on 30 adults with known medical, dental and gum diseases. They found that their novel detection method was very sensitive to the presence of bacteria.
“The test is so sensitive it can detect as little as tens of bacteria cells of a certain type from a sample that might contain around 200 species of bacteria commonly found in your mouth,” Bor said. “We were able to target and detect specific bacteria in unprocessed saliva, meaning we could get this level of sensitivity and specificity without having to additionally process the saliva sample.”
Moreover, the researchers used their detection tool to target three bacteria associated with various cancers, digestive diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. They found that the tool could detect biomarkers from salvia, including inflammatory and cancer markers.
The researchers say that doing away with the complex equipment needed for current testing procedures means that a person’s oral health could be comprehensively checked while in the dentist’s office having a checkup or a filling.
“Once this tool is fully developed, it will change your dental experience,” said Wenyuan Shi, one of the study’s co-authors. “While your teeth are cleaned, the dentist can also provide you with all the biological information related to your oral and overall health.”
The study was published in the Journal of Oral Microbiology.
Source: Forsyth Institute