You have probably never met — or, for that matter, heard of — Bob Street, but if you make any use of DNA sequencing technology, he may be a good guy to know. Street, a research fellow at Xerox research subsidiary PARC for the past 27 years, is one of three inventors listed on a newly issued patent for a DNA sequence imager that could strip current methods of their cumbersome optics requirements.
But none of that will come to pass without one of you intervening. Street has spent the last decade working on large-area X-ray images — not exactly the standard DNA sequencing fare. The imaging technology he came up with was targeted at such X-ray images: “What we had … was a very large, light-sensitive detector,” Street says.
Fellow inventor Jaan Noolandi had some experience with DNA applications, Street says, and the team realized their invention might have an application for the field. “We saw an opportunity and wrote a patent,” Street says. “When you’re sequencing DNA fragments using the standard technique of DNA electrophoresis, the way they’re read out is by illuminating them with a laser. … [With the large-area detector], there would be no optics. No matter where the DNA fragments were, they would be picked up by the large detector that was sitting right next to it.”
Such discoveries are part and parcel of life at PARC, where exploratory research often takes off down avenues that aren’t part of Xerox’s core mission. “You can imagine that DNA sequencing is not a Xerox business,” Street says. The DNA sequence imager is a classic example of PARC’s pattern: with the patent issued, researchers will look for an outside company with sequencing expertise to join forces with PARC and build a marketable instrument out of the technology. “It’s waiting for someone to come along and commercialize it,” Street says.
— Meredith Salisbury