Yeung receives scientific award for genome mapping machine

Jennifer Nacin

An ISU professor’s research in chemistry has made him the first recipient of the Ralph N. Adams Award in Bioanalytical Chemistry.

Edward Yeung, distinguished professor of chemistry and director of the Chemical and Biological Sciences Program at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory, has been named the recipient of the Adams Award, which recognizes his exceptional scientific contributions to the chemical field.

It is now one of many awards in Yeung’s possession, highlighting his outstanding achievements in chemistry and biological sciences. His awards set him apart as one of the top analytical scientists in the world, said Ames Laboratory Director Tom Barton.

“Ed Yeung is one of, if not the most, productive and creative analytical chemists in the world,” Barton said.

Yeung has developed a detection system that will potentially advance worldwide efforts to sequence the entire human genome. It is the first of its kind to simultaneously monitor 96 capillary separations, Yeung said.

Kerry Gibson, communication specialist at the Ames Laboratory, said capillary separations involve fine glass tubes with the diameter smaller than a human hair that draw up biological material or chemical solutions.

A laser is then shown through the material in the tubes to create a spectrum that allows its chemical makeup to be analyzed. Before Yeung developed the system, only one sample could be monitored at one time.

This rapid increase in the monitoring speed of the capillary separations also speeds the process for disease diagnosis and the development of better treatments and drugs, Gibson said.

Yeung said he designed a way to identify and differentiate single biomolecules by using a sensitive imaging approach. He said it is capable of analyzing individual movements of numerous molecules simultaneously — up to 100,000 molecules per second. It is possible that this method will lead to a more effective DNA or protein screening method within single biological cells for enhanced detection of disease markers, he said.

Yeung and his research group also developed a method for studying single human blood cell contents, he said.

Chemical markers that appear before a disease causes physical changes in blood cells can be detected through this method, thus allowing the possibility of earlier disease diagnosis.

“We think that eventually you can look at one cell at a time and one gene at a time and predict the likelihood of a person having a disease,” Yeung said.

“It’s gratifying knowing that one is doing a little bit to help the environment and other human beings.”

Yeung also said the study of human blood cells can lead to additional theories of the origins of life.

“There’s some talk about the origin of life,” Yeung said. “If you can stop and understand biomolecules, one at a time, we might be able to understand how life originated.”

Yeung will receive the Ralph N. Adams Award in Bioanalytical Chemistry in Orlando, Fla., at the 2005 Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, which will be held from Feb. 27 through March 4.

The Ralph N. Adams Award was created in memory of the post-World War II professor of electroanalytical and analytical chemistry.