TR10: $100 Genome
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Sequencing DNA: Thousands of branching channels just nanometers wide (left) untangle very long DNA strands; bright fluorescent labels allow researchers to easily visualize these molecules (right).
The chip meets only half the $100-genome challenge: it unravels DNA but does not sequence it. To achieve that, the company is working with Silicon Valley-based Complete Genomics, which has developed bright, fluorescently labeled probes that bind to the 4,096 possible combinations of six-letter DNA “words.” Along with BioNanomatrix’s chip, the probes could achieve the lightning-fast sequencing necessary for the $100 genome. But the probes can’t stick to double-stranded DNA, so Complete Genomics will need to figure out how to open up small sections of DNA without uncoupling the entire molecule.
BioNanomatrix is keeping its options open. “At this point, we don’t have any exclusive ties to any sequencing chemistry,” says Gary Zweiger, the company’s vice president of development. “We want to make our chip available to sequencers, and we feel that it is an essential component to driving the costs down to the $100 level. We can’t do it alone, but we feel that they can’t do it without this critical component.”
Whether or not BioNanomatrix reaches its goal of $100 sequencing in eight hours, its technology could play an important role in medicine. Because the chips can process long pieces of DNA, the molecules retain information about gene location; they can thus be used to quickly identify new viruses or bacteria causing an outbreak, or to map new genes linked to specific diseases. And as researchers learn more about the genetic variations implicated in different diseases, it might be possible to biopsy tissue and sequence only those genes with variants known to cause disease, says Colin Collins, a professor at the Prostate Center at Vancouver General Hospital, who plans to use BioNanomatrix chips in his lab. “Suddenly,” Collins says, “you can sequence extremely rapidly and very, very inexpensively, and provide the patient with diagnosis and prognosis and, hopefully, a drug.”