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ESA to Send Arrays to Mars; US Mission in Doubt

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The European Space Agency has approved a mission that will send microarrays on a life-detection mission to Mars in 2011, quelling any doubts that the technology wouldn’t make it into space. According to Pietro Baglioni, an ESA spokesperson, the mission, called ExoMars, was approved during an ESA ministerial meeting in December, and the project is now moving forward.

Baglioni says the mission, which calls for an unmanned rover to search the surface of Mars for biotic life or abiotic chemistry, is now undergoing a spacecraft composite requirement review and must pass through another review phase before ESA can proceed to manufacturing, testing, and qualifying the rover for launch in five years.

Baglioni says that ESA has committed €650 million to support the ExoMars mission, and that it will launch from Russia’s Soyuz station in French Guyana. He added that the 2011 date is tentative, and that there is the possibility the mission could be delayed to 2013.

ESA’s decision to approve ExoMars validates the work done by the team that created the microarray technology. Led by scientists at the Carnegie Institute of Washington, the team had pinned the future of its life-detection arrays on missions to Mars from both ESA and NASA. “We proposed this technology to ESA in 1999, so the last couple of years we’ve had our fingers crossed,” says Carnegie scientist Andrew Steele, who has led a cross-Atlantic team in developing the array technology.

Steele says that a separate NASA mission that was supposed to have utilized array technology, called the Astrobiology Field Laboratory, still faces an uncertain future. Due to cuts in NASA’s 2006-2007 budget, which reduced support for the mission by half, Steele says its prospects were in doubt.

— Justin Petrone


PATENT WATCH

US Patent 7,001,740. Methods of arraying biological materials using peelable and resealable devices. Inventors: David Duffy, Gregory Kirk, Stewart Campbell, Olivier Schueller, Melina Agosto. Assignee: Surface Logix. Issued: February 21, 2006.

The patent claims devices and methods for performing assays on biological materials. These make use of self-sealing members, which can be applied to a flat surface to form wells to facilitate immobilization of materials, then removed to yield a flat surface that facilitates the performance of processes on and detection of the immobilized material, according to the patent’s abstract. According to the patent, the devices that make use of these methods may include spatial arrays and microtiter plates.


US Patent 7,001,572. Analyzing device with biochip. Inventors: Thomas Gueritault, Maxime Odiet, Jean-Claude Prelaz. Assignee: BioMerieux. Issued: February 21, 2006.

The patent claims a device for an analyte, consisting of a container and a biochip that are attached by at least one section. The patent’s abstract includes further claims that the biochip is fixed by adhesive to the container in a way that the peripheral zone of the active face of the biochip is exposed.


Datapoint

$16.5 million

Value of grant awarded by NIH’s National Center for Research Resources to the University of Vermont to fund the Vermont Genetics Network, which includes support for microarray, proteomics, and bioinformatics facilities.


SHORTREADS

Using microarray technology, researchers at Ohio State University have identified 137 different miRNAs expressed in at least half of cancers, with 43 miRNAs allowing scientists to distinguish the difference between normal and malignant tissue.

The US Air Force is using CombiMatrix’s CustomArray technology to develop a biomonitor device capable of analyzing multiple DNA or protein biomarkers to help monitor the health status of military service personnel before, during, and after deployment.

Signature Genomic Laboratories has licensed an undisclosed number of Affymetrix patents related to the use of microarrays for comparative genomic hybridization studies.

Applied Biosystems has named 11 companies and academic centers in North America, Europe, and Asia to be part of its Advanced Gene Expression Service Provider Program. Program members will offer ABI’s microarray gene-expression tools and services, including microarrays for human, mouse, and rat genes to enhance service providers’ business offerings.

Singapore-based Research Instruments will distribute Genomatix Software’s product line in Singapore and Thailand.

Gene Express signed on to participate in the US Food and Drug Administration’s Microarray Quality Control Consortium and will analyze samples using its StaRT-PCR technology.

The Scan

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