London: In a first, researchers have detected and decoded a signal generated from a newborn's DNA that can tell doctors about presence of bacterial infection in the bloodstream.
The findings could help develop a test for bacterial infection in newborns, using a single drop of blood.
"Just like Twitter, a baby's genome produces short messages or signals that produce code information to communicate with the infant's immune and metabolic systems so that it can fight the infection," said Peter Ghazal, a professor of molecular genetics at University of Edinburgh.
"We are now working on ways of using a single drop of blood to detect this vital signal," he added.
Immediate detection of such infections, which are a major cause of death among young children, is currently impossible as no simple test exists.
Accurate diagnosis of infection could limit overuse of antibiotics, which can lead to drug resistance.
The team has identified a signal consisting of 52 molecular characters - like a biological tweet - that is specific to bacterial infection.
Using blood samples from newborn babies in Edinburgh, the study investigated thousands of signals written in biological code known as messenger RNAs.
Through meticulous code-breaking, the scientists were able to decipher with close to 100 percent accuracy the signals generated by an infant's genome that specifically tell that they are suffering from sepsis.
Diagnosing sepsis in newborns is extremely difficult, as signs of infection, such as a high temperature, may not occur - or if they do, they may not be due to an infection.
"This work is enabling us to move towards being able to distinguish between babies with true infection who need urgent treatment, and those who are not infected and do not require antibiotics," added Claire Smith from Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.