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Agilent, DARPA, and University of Colorado Team Up to Streamline DNA Synthesis

NEW YORK, Dec. 3—Agilent Laboratories today announced a $6.1 million research collaboration with the University of Colorado and the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to develop a simpler technique for nucleic acid synthesis.

Under the agreement, Agilent’s Doug Dellinger will collaborate with Colorado’s Marvin Caruthers to develop a two-step method for DNA synthesis. Agilent and DARPA will jointly fund the research under a three-year, milestone-based contract.

Current nucleic acid synthesis techniques are more than 20 years old, and rely on a four-step process that requires toxic reagents. The method the partnership plans to develop would streamline the procedure, reducing it to two steps and replacing many dangerous solvents.

Agilent has worked with the University of Colorado for several years on developing and improving this method, said Steve Laderman, manager of the molecular diagnostic department at Agilent Laboratories. The DARPA grant will further develop and extend the project.

Certain rights to the technology would be retained by DARPA, a program of the US Department of Defense, and the rest would be divided between the University of Colorado and Agilent.

A more straightforward process for nucleic acid synthesis would improve oligonucleotide synthesis, accelerate and simplify microarray manufacture and could eventually dovetail with Agilent’s microfluidics work, said Laderman.

“We believe we’re in the forefront of this approach,” he said. “The real value is the improvement that we hope it’ll make in our products. Our hope is that the technology will increase the performance as well as simultaneously lower the manufacturing costs.”

Laderman said this effort was in part driven by new chemical insights that make the technique possible, and in part by the demand for improved synthesis techniques.

“It’s a matter of having a combination of a deep understanding of the chemistry associated with the chemical synthesis of DNA, what challenges we face today in going to very microscale synthesis,” he said. “Those challenges differ from the ones faced 20 years ago.”

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