Sequencing evolution

Roche partners with DNA Electronics to develop semiconductor-based sequencing system

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BRANFORD, Conn.—A cheaper high-throughput DNA sequencing system could be on the horizon, and its development is the focus of a new collaboration between DNA Electronics and 454 Life Sciences, a Roche company.

Under the agreement, Roche has signed a non-exclusive license for relevant intellectual property from DNA Electronics' proprietary semiconductor technology portfolio, which enables sensitive detection of nucleotide incorporation during sequencing.
Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed.

Christopher McLeod, president and CEO of 454 Life Sciences, says his company is pleased to work together with DNA Electronics, the inventors of ISFET DNA sequencing technology, to bring the benefits of semiconductors to the field of sequencing.

"This collaboration nicely combines our expertise in long-read sequencing chemistry with DNA Electronics' understanding of the ISFET technology and semiconductor design," McLeod says. "The promise of routine human genome sequencing continues to inspire the scientific community, particularly in cancer research, where genetics play a large role in disease detection, progression and treatment."

According to Ulrich Schwoerer, head of global marketing for 454 Life Sciences, DNA Electronics also offers a unique understanding of pH-mediated detection of nucleotide insertions in addition to semiconductor design.

"We will leverage their many years of experience in this field as we work together to develop a ultra high-throughput sequencing system," he says.

While this is the first time the two companies have worked together, DNA Electronics Chairman and CEO Chris Toumazou says the agreement isn't a reach for his London-based company.

"We have always believed that ISFET semiconductor technology will play a significant role in the future of life science and healthcare markets," he says. "We are delighted to embark on this collaboration with 454 Life Sciences, a pioneer in the field of high-throughput sequencing."

Combining the scalability and cost savings of semiconductor technology, a result of decades of advances in the computing industry, with 454 Life Sciences' long-read chemistry has the potential to allow comprehensive human genome mutation and structural variation identification within hours, Roche and DNA Electronics note.

Schwoerer says DNA Electronic's ISFET technology will build on 454 Life Sciences' current pyrosequencing portfolio by enabling an evolution from optical detection to electrochemical detection.

"ISFET technology offers significant advantages," he says. "Electrical detection eliminates the need for expensive CCD cameras and enzymes involved in the signal amplification cascade. The use of solid-state semiconductor chips also draws significant cost savings from a half-century of advances in the semiconductor industry. The high sensitivity of ion detection, coupled with the semiconductor design, enables tremendous scalability in the number of features per plate and the ability to achieve ultra-high throughput."

Currently available optical detection technologies use tagging methods to color different bases and the only way to identify a sequence in a large array is through the use photography. As a result, large machines that are costly and take time to provide the desired results are required. Using an electrical signal as a marker for DNA matching removes this step, allowing cheaper, faster and scalable DNA testing.

Semiconductor DNA sequencing, according to Toumazou, could become small enough to fit on the side of a laptop and would be cheap enough to be disposable, and he's convinced that semiconductors will be the main form of DNA testing in the future.

"Here is a technology that has already had billions of dollars of investment—it's advanced and ready to use," he concludes.

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