Radio waves: The unexpected key to next-gen medicines

By Our Reporter
In the realm of biotechnology, the ability to insert DNA into bacterial cells with precision and care is crucial. These cells serve as miniature factories for producing a plethora of medicines

Scientists from Australia and the United States have pioneered a groundbreaking method to modify the DNA within bacterial cells, a crucial step in manufacturing essential medicines, including insulin. This innovative approach, markedly more efficient than traditional techniques, leverages high-frequency radio waves instead of relying on the use of harsh chemicals or extreme heat to penetrate bacterial cell walls for DNA insertion.

The collaboration, spearheaded by RMIT University alongside various Australian academic institutions and WaveCyte Biotechnologies in the US, applied radio waves at the 18 gigahertz frequency. This method effectively ‘opens the gates’ of E. coli bacterial cells, allowing for the insertion of genetic material. Following this process, the cells seamlessly revert to their normal state, continuing their vital functions.

This technique’s roots trace back to prior research with the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research, which revealed how high-frequency electromagnetic energy could enhance the permeability of bacterial cells temporarily. Building upon this foundation, the recent study published in Nano Letters demonstrates the method’s ability to safely incorporate DNA into cells.

The efficiency of this new method is striking, with a success rate of 91% for the transference of new DNA into E. coli cells after a three-minute exposure to 18GHz radio waves. This starkly contrasts with the ‘heat shock’ method, the current industry standard, which achieves a 77% success rate but at the cost of significant cell mortality due to heat exposure. Even the more gentle laser pulse techniques fall short, with less than 30% efficiency.

Palalle G. Tharushi Perera

RMIT’s Distinguished Professor Elena Ivanova highlighted the dual benefits of their approach: exceptional efficiency coupled with minimal stress on the cells. The absence of harsh treatments results in a notably higher cell survival rate, distinguishing it from other methods.

Moreover, this process has proven effective in eukaryotic cells, which include a broad spectrum of life forms from animals and plants to fungi, further evidenced by its successful application in PC 12 cell line models commonly utilised in neuroscience research.

The implications of this research extend far beyond the laboratory. It paves the way for a myriad of applications in drug delivery, particularly within microbiome therapeutics and synthetic biology. With intellectual property protection sought by RMIT in partnership with WaveCyte Biotechnologies, there’s an evident commitment to transitioning these scientific advancements into practical applications.

WaveCyte’s CEO, Dr. Steve Wanjara, echoed this enthusiasm for the technique’s potential to revolutionize the accessibility and affordability of critical therapies. The ongoing efforts to refine the method for mammalian cells underscore a broader ambition to leverage this research for global health benefits.

Dr. Tharushi Perera, the study’s lead author, emphasised the significance of redefining the narrative around electromagnetic energy. In contrast to prevailing misconceptions, often fueled by misinformation, this study showcases the positive, life-enhancing potential of high-frequency electromagnetic energy.

This research not only challenges preconceived notions about the applications of electromagnetic energy but also illuminates a promising path forward for the development of innovative treatments. With a keen eye on the future, the team looks forward to the life-saving treatments this technology could unlock, marking a significant stride in the realm of medical science.

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