Jared Rader/The Daily
OU Stephenson Research and Technology Center researchers recently earned a spot in the 2009 R&D 100 for the GeoChip, a new technology that is capable of quickly and cheaply identifying functioning microorganisms in a scientific sample.
“This is the highest honor for technology development,” said Jizhong Zhou, principal researcher and Presidential Professor of the OU Department of Botany and Microbiology.
R&D Magazine announced the GeoChip’s selection as one of the R&D 100 in an article dated Aug. 6. The magazine produces the list to honor the top 100 technological achievements of each year.
“We are the pioneer in the world in this technology,” Zhou said. “Nobody else has it. We are the only group.”
Joy D. Van Nostrand, a researcher on the project and a post-doctoral research associate said that, at a glance, the GeoChip looks like a regular glass microscope slide. However, a chemical is added to attach thousands of genetic probes to the slide’s surface that can recognize the genes of more than 50,000 microorganisms at once, Van Nostrand said.
The GeoChip makes it easier to quickly recognize what genes are functioning in samples of soil, water and other substances.
Van Nostrand said the GeoChip is especially useful for identifying microorganisms in contaminated environments such as soil or water. Once the GeoChip knows exactly what the contaminants are, scientists can decide how to fix the contamination.
The GeoChip can also be used to test microbial samples in the air as well as human and animal bodies, according to the award application provided by Van Nostrand.
Zhou said before the GeoChip’s development, the process of testing for individual genes was painstaking because scientists often do not know what they are initially looking for.
“They used to identify organisms one-by-one, gene-by-gene,” Zhou said. “Now you can do this simultaneously, so it is much cheaper, much quicker and you can gain information which you could not before.”
Researchers from around the world send scientific samples to the Stephenson Research Center to be analyzed by the GeoChip, Van Nostrand said.
Zhou said he has worked with more than 50 researchers from different universities over the past 10 years to create the GeoChip, with funding from three sources: the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
The current GeoChip is the fourth model of the device.
“This is a continuous process,” Zhou said. “Every two years we will have a new generation of the GeoChip.”
There has been talk of creating specialized GeoChips for specific functions, such as detecting things that cause disease, Van Nostrand said.