Molecular sensor to detect zinc in cells for improved diagnostics

London, Aug 31 ( Scientists have developed a new molecular sensor that can detect the presence of zinc in cells and help improve diagnostics.

Zinc is involved in many processes in the body and five percent of all proteins made by the body’s cells are involved in transporting zinc.

Previously, researchers used crude chemical techniques to get a rough idea of the concentration of zinc in cells. However, they could not produce an accurate picture of how much zinc was present in cells or where it was within them.

Scientists believe zinc plays a role in many diseases; for example, it helps package insulin in pancreas cells and in people with type 2 diabetes, the gene that controls this packaging is often defective.

The new sensor developed by researchers from Imperial College London and Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands comprises two jellyfish proteins called green fluorescent proteins.

Researchers altered the first protein to give off light at a certain wavelength, and altered the second protein to collect that light. This revealed zinc in the cell, with coloured patches visible where the proteins detected zinc.

Guy Rutter, study co-author from the Imperial College, said: “There has been relatively little biological work done on zinc compared to other metals such as calcium and sodium, partly because we didn’t have the tools to measure it accurately before now.”

“Zinc is so important in the body – studies have suggested it has roles in many different areas, including muscles and the brain,” Rutter added, according to an Imperial College release.

These findings were published in Nature Methods.