Researchers have created a new kind of barcode that could come in an almost limitless array of styles -- with the potential to enable scientists to gather vastly more vital information, at one given time, than ever before.

Fluorescence microscopy has been a tour de force in biomedical imaging for the last several decades. In short, scientists couple fluorescent elements -- the barcodes -- to molecules they know will attach to the part of the cells they wanted to investigate. Illuminating the sample triggers each kind of barcode to fluoresce at a particular wavelength of light, such as red, blue, or green -- indicating where the molecules of interest are.

However, the method is limited by the number of colors available -- three or four -- and sometimes the colors get blurry. That's where the magic of the DNA barcode comes in: colored-dots can be arranged into geometric patterns or fluorescent linear barcodes, and the combinations are almost limitless -- substantially increasing the number of distinct molecules or cells scientists can observe in a sample, and the colors are easy to distinguish.

Here's how it works: DNA origami follows the basic principles of the double helix in which the molecular bases A (adenosine) only bind to T (thymine), and C (cytosine) bases only bind to G (guanine). With those "givens" in place, a long strand of DNA is programmed to self-assemble by folding in on itself with the help of shorter strands to create predetermined forms--much like a single sheet of paper is folded to create a variety of designs in the traditional Japanese art.

To these more structurally complex DNA nano-structures, researchers can then attach fluorescent molecules to the desired spots, and use origami technology to generate a large pool of barcodes out of only a few fluorescent molecules. That could add a lot to the cellular imaging "toolbox" because it enables scientists to potentially light up more cellular structures than ever possible before.

This story is reprinted from material from the Wyss Institute, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier. Link to original source.