Zaps of Electricity Can Identify Mysterious Molecules

Scientists are developing screening tools to distinguish complex chains of amino acids and carbohydrates

There are about a trillion ways to put six sugar molecules together. Since some sugars signify diseases, telling them apart could lead to better disease detection or medicines. But identifying some molecules, including sugars, usually takes many samples or pricey hardware. So at Arizona State University, researchers are working on a device that could easily identify long molecule chains by how they respond to electricity.

In early lab experiments with a special, chemically-attractive molecule that can coat electrode plates, the researchers were able to elicit unique current spikes from other molecules—making it possible to tell them apart with a zap. They had already identified amino acids, peptides, and nucleobases. But now they can identify individual sugars. Pretty sweet, right?