March 15, 2004
Cal Tech Quake Lab Extracts DNA From Single Cell

The Stephen Quake lab at the Californian Institute of Technology (CalTech) has developed a microfluidic device that will extract the DNA from a single cell.

By shrinking laboratory machines to minute proportions, California scientists have built a postage stamp-sized chip that drags DNA from cells. The device might one day shoulder some of scientists' routine tasks.

Microfluidic devices are going to revolutionize biological science and medicine because they will lower costs and increase automation by orders of magnitude.

The chip requires thousands to millions times less of the expensive chemicals required to isolate and process nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA. Once commercialized, it could have a profound impact on the nucleic acid isolation market, which is worth $232 million per year in the United States alone. Current leaders in that market include Qiagen in Germany, Sigma-Aldrich in St. Louis and Amersham Biosciences in Britain.

Parallel processing samples on a chip will speed up the rate of analysis and lower costs.

Steve Quake's team describes the general architecture for parallel processing of nanoliter fluids for biotechnology in a letter in the March 15 Nature Biotechnology. “We think it's an important milestone in general biological automation,” he told The Scientist.

Automation lowers costs and the ability to use smaller samples and smaller amounts of reagents also lowers costs. But another advantage of microfluidics is that enables the measurement of things that otherwise could not be measured at all. It is often very difficult to get large samples in the first place. Many cell types are difficult or impossible to grow in culture. Also, growing cells in culture will change their internal chemical state. The ability to look inside and measure the contents and structure of a single cell will allow many types of experiments and tests that are just not possible today.

Also see my previous posts on the Quake lab's work: Cal Tech Chemical Lab On A Silicon Chip and Microfluidics to Revolutionize Biosciences.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 March 15 11:13 AM  Biotech Advance Rates


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