June 14, 2003
Industry Continues To Advance DNA Assaying Technologies

The Scientist has published their annual review of the burgeoning microfluidics industry which includes a description of the 451 Life Sciences DNA sequencing technology. (free registration required)

Multiplexed amplification and sequencing reactions take place in the 75- picoliter wells of the company's high-density (~300,000 well) PicoTiter™ plates. Sequencing is accomplished with synthesis reactions, which produce light that is captured by the instrument's detection system. The current configuration will support resequencing of many strains of viruses and bacteria, and ultimately the de novo sequencing of bacterial and viral genomes.

454 Life Sciences' goal is to cut orders of magnitude of time off the sequencing of an entire genome.

As a majority-owned subsidiary of CuraGen, 454 Life Sciences follows CuraGen's tradition of innovative, industrialized, high-throughput solutions to bio-product development bottlenecks. As CuraGen's focus is on genomics-based pharmaceutical development to address unmet medical needs, 454 Life Sciences' mission is to develop and commercialize instrument systems to conduct whole genome analysis in a massively parallel fashion. Together, engineers and scientists from both companies are actively working together to develop and refine technology that can analyze entire genomes in days, instead of years, thus addressing bottlenecks currently impeding product development across the life sciences industry. In essence, CuraGen receives the benefits from being the "first user" of 454 Life Sciences' instruments and technology.

The Scientist also has published an article on 4 highly parallel approaches to whole genome Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) testing. The approach followed by Affymetrix illustrates how rapidly the rate of SNP testing is accelerating.

In 1999, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company released its GeneChip HuSNP™, capable of profiling 1,200 SNPs simultaneously. Now its GeneChip Mapping10K Array (in early access) genotypes 10,000 SNPs per assay. By the end of the year, Affymetrix expects to begin offering early access to next-generation products that can genotype 100,000 SNPs per assay across multiple arrays.

Another company mentioned in the second article is Illumina which clams their Sentrix™ 96 multi-array matrix enables parallel processing of up to 150,000 SNPs

BeadArray fiber bundle arrays contain nearly 50,000 individual, light-conducting fiber strands which are chemically etched to create a microscopic well at the end of each strand. Each bead in the array con-tains multiple copies of covalently attached oligonucleotide probes, and up to 1,500 unique probe sequences are represented in each array, with approximately 30-fold redundancy of each bead type.

Note the use of bundles of large numbers of optical fibers. It illustrates how communications and electronics technologies are being used in biological instrumentation systems because they are of the right scale to do what is being attempted: make things smaller in order to make them more sensitive, faster, more parallel, and cheaper.

What is perhaps most encouraging about these reports is that the story of advances in DNA sequencing and SNP assaying is increasingly a story about industrial technology developers than about academic researchers. All the assaying systems described in these articles are made by companies, not university research groups (though it would not be surprising if university research groups collaborate with some of them in their development). The development of much cheaper and faster DNA assaying tools is not a distant prospect waiting on unpredictable advances in basic science. Rather, it is happening now as dozens of companies refine existing products and roll out new products that offer dramatic improvements over previous generation products that are just a couple of years old.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 June 14 01:03 PM  Biotech Advance Rates


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