Scientists have found a way to modify plant proteins and create a rapid test for dangerous chemicals, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
During times of drought, plants produce the ABA chemical, which allows them to retain more water. Plants also create receptors that detect ABA. With a few small tweaks, the scientists showed that these ABA receptors can detect up to 20 chemicals. These tests can be used to look for banned pesticides and dangerous synthetic cannabinoids.
“It would be very important if we could develop rapid tests to detect the presence of a dangerous chemical, such as a synthetic cannabinoid.” This new work gives others a roadmap to do so,” said study co-author Sean Cutler, a plant cell biologist at the University of California, Riverside.
Synthetic cannabinoids, in particular, are being created faster than regulatory agencies can keep up with them. These drugs are often dangerous and even deadly. Rapid tests could help regulators keep up with new products containing dangerous synthetic cannabinoids.
“Our system can be set up to detect lab variants of cannabinoids as soon as they hit the market,” Cutler said.
The tests are also capable of detecting organophosphates, some (but not all) of which are illegal and dangerous pesticides. Being able to quickly identify illegal pesticides will allow you to check water quality faster.”
To create these tests, the scientists used the ability of ABA to turn on receptors. When ABA interacts with receptors, it can cause many different reactions, such as glowing. Changing the design of the receptors allows them to signal the presence of various chemicals. Scientists hope to extend this method to other types of chemicals.
“We take an enzyme that can glow in the right context and split it into two parts. One part is the switch and the other is the protein that it binds to,” Cutler said. “This trick of combining two things in the presence of a third chemical is not new. Our achievement is that we can reprogram this process to work with a large number of different third chemicals.”