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Gene Expression Too Many Tiny Beads to Count? Try Barcodes Instead


Call it the Dewey decimal system for bead experiments. A new technology uses nanocrystals and optics in a sort of barcoding system that allows for improved tagging of beads, which could mean better resolution and more multiplexing for gene expression, SNP analysis, and protein-protein interaction studies.

Known as the BioDots project within bioinformatics technology incubator LaunchCyte, the technology was developed by Shuming Nie, Mingyong Han, and Xiaohu Gao. Building on the advantages of beads over biochips, the inventors decided to use quantum dots instead of the more standard organic dyes to identify each bead. According to Nie, “The optic qualities are far better than the organic dyes — we can produce multiple colors by using a single light source.” The idea is to be able to put lots of beads in one solution, perform the experiment — say, binding oligos to the surface of the beads — and then use light to check the tag embedded inside the bead to find out what the sequence of that oligo is.

The major benefit of the system is its speed, say Nie and LaunchCyte CEO Tom Petzinger and science director Jonathan Kaufman. “You have orders of magnitude more redundancy in your analysis,” Kaufman says. “Thousands of molecular markers are being interrogated in the same biological sample.”

Nie, who plans to remain at his post at Indiana University, will head up the company LaunchCyte is starting based on this technology. Petzinger expects it to be operational sometime next year.

— Meredith Salisbury


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