Press release: CATANA software package calculates the exact structure of biomolecules

English translation of press release originally published on OTS

AIT is developing a new detection method for infectious bacteria with partners

Vienna (OTS) – Researchers at the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, together with partners from Croatia and Italy, are developing a powerful tool that will enable a highly sensitive, rapid and cost-effective detection method for infectious bacteria.
Countless types of bacteria live around us, most of which are harmless or even beneficial to humans. However, some bacteria, such as salmonella, coliform bacteria or the pathogens that cause cholera, can cause diseases. Therefore everything must be done to ensure that e.g. B. water, drinks or food are free of such pathogenic germs. Traditionally, these bacteria are detected by cell cultures in the laboratory, but this takes up two to three days. Although alternative molecular biological methods are faster, they are expensive and in many cases not sensitive enough. A group of researchers led by the AIT Center for Health & Bioresources has a better solution in mind: their goal is to develop a rapid, highly sensitive and at the same time more cost-effective detection method. The basis for this approach were laid in the EU project MARA. Now, in the follow-up project MARILIA, which is being funded with around two million euros as part of the EU research program “Horizon 2020”, the prototype of a test procedure is being developed so that the method can then be used immediately for the analysis of water and other beverages.

Proteins and DNA in the computer
The novel detection method is based on recombinant proteins that are linked to DNA strands: as soon as pathogenic bacteria are identified, these molecules change their structure – and this can be detected by simple measurements. It is crucial that these complex molecules, which are specially designed for this purpose, have exactly the right structure. “These structures are too complex to be able to build them without the help of computers,” explains project manager Ivan Barisic, senior scientist at the AIT Unit Molecular Diagnostics. “By calculating the structures on the computer, it is possible to greatly reduce the work required in the laboratory,” says Barisic. This saves a lot of time and money.

An important part of the MARILIA project was therefore to develop correspondingly powerful software for this – because, according to Barisic, the tools available at the moment have relevant downsides, e.g. B. not comprehensive enough for the specific task in the MARILIA project. “We have developed an easy-to-use, web-based modeling tool to design and manipulate proteins, DNA and DNA nanostructures,” reports Barisic. The result of this research work is the CATANA system, which was recently presented to experts in the renowned journal “Nucleic Acids Research“.

3D modeling and visualization
CATANA includes a tool for three-dimensional modeling and manipulation of complex biomolecules in real time, as well as for visualization in several levels of detail – down to the atomic level. In addition to user-friendly data import and export functions, a new data format was established which can subsequently also be used for molecular dynamics studies. “AlphaFold”, an artificial intelligence-based tool that predicts the exact three-dimensional structure of a protein based on the amino acid sequence in unprecedented quality was also integrated. This method was awarded “breakthrough of the year 2021” by the scientific journal “Science”.

CATANA is designed as a web-based application that gives users easy access to the modeling and visualization tools via a web browser, regardless of their operating system. The software itself runs on an AIT server and is freely accessible to scientists all over the world as an open source solution. It is now planned to further develop the system into a commercial application, to be offered on the market through a spin-off company. CATANA can be of great use, e.g. B. in the development of drugs.

Examination of water and food
In the MARILIA project itself, CATANA is already providing valuable contribution in order to optimize the detection method for pathogenic bacteria and to further develop it into a practical application for the analysis of water and beverages. Subsequently, the researchers envisage expanding the scope of the new method to food, agriculture and the health sector.

The MARILIA project
In the EU research project MARILIA (“MARA-based Industrial Low-cost Identification Assays”), researchers from the AIT Austrian Institute of Technology (Unit Molecular Diagnostics) are developing together with colleagues from the University of Zagreb, the Ruder Boskovic Institute, the Italian multinational utility group IREN and the Italian start-up incubator Day One developed a highly sensitive, rapid and inexpensive method for the detection of infectious bacteria in water and beverages. The project, which started in September 2020 and is scheduled to last 30 months, is coordinated by AIT and funded with around two million euros as part of the EU research program “Horizon 2020”. An important intermediate step was the development of the CATANA software tool, to design precisely the structure of the molecules required for bacterial detection.

Questions & contact:
Fabian Purtscher
Center for Health & Bioresources
Marketing and Communication
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology GmbH
T +43(0) 50550-4406 | M +43(0) 664 8251322
fabian.purtscher @ |

Mag. Michael H. Hlava
Head of Corporate and Marketing Communications
AIT Austrian Institute of Technology
T +43 (0)50550-4014
michael.hlava @ I www.ait