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Cambridge University Spinoff Devises Array for Swift, Cheap Resequencing

NEW YORK, Aug. 23 - A small British company said it is close to unveiling a prototype of a novel single-molecule array that can resequence an individual human genome with single-base resolution at a fraction of the time and cost of currently used methods.


The technology being developed by the company, Solexa, is an unaddressed and monodispersed high-density array designed to deliver base-by-base sequencing without the need for DNA amplification, the company said.


There are two principle components to the technology, said Nick McCooke, the company's CEO: The actual nanotechnology-based single-molecule array platform, currently in the pre-prototype stage, and a sequencing chemistry, which is expected to appear early next year. McCooke said a prototype comprising the two parts will be completed by the end of next year. A product launch is slated to follow sometime in 2004, he added.


McCooke said the array can investigates the interplay between any two sets of interacting molecules, meaning that the technology can be engaged in a number of diverse applications.

Though Solexa, a Cambridge University spinoff, might in the future decide to expand the array's bailiwick, the CEO stressed the company for now will woodshed exclusively on the DNA sequencing.


"As a startup company we really have to focus our resources on what we consider to be right now the prime application," said McCooke. Long-term, McCooke said Solexa might be interested either in pursuing some of the other applications itself or partnering.


"If you're going ... to resequence an individual human genome for a matter of a few thousand dollars and within a sensible time scale, for a lot of reasons there is good sense to look at doing it at the single-molecule level," said McCooke.


There are two ways to do this, he said: A researcher can either split the DNA and analyze lots of relatively short read lengths in parallel, which is Solexa's bag, or one can read along a single length of DNA very quickly, which has been the raison d'etre of, say, a U.S. Genomics.


U.S. Genomics, for the record, is still glowing from a public-approval notice by Craig Venter who two weeks ago announced his intention to study the company's technology in a new sequencing center he plans to open this year, and sit on the company's board and become a scientific advisor. McCooke, however, reckons there's enough room in the genomics universe for both types of technology to thrive.


"I think what's going to happen is these different approaches are probably going to be used for different applications," said McCooke. "There will be applications where you really do need to read every single base, and there also will be applications where that will not be necessary."

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