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Japanese Tool Shop Promises Faster, More Economical DNA Sequencer

NEW ORLEANS, March 19 - Shimadzu Biotech is working on a new high-throughput sequencer that it says will be 10 times faster and 90 percent cheaper to run than current state-of-the-art machines.


Shimadzu Biotech, a division of the Japanese instrumentation company Shimadzu Corporation, is co-developing the new sequencer system with GenoMEMS, a Massachusetts startup that has developed a microfabrication technology.


The new sequencer uses a set of microfabricated electrical and mechanical components attached to a 25 cm x 50 cm glass plate. Ultrafine microcapillaries separate DNA through electrophoresis.


According to Shimadzu, microelectromechanical system, or MEMS, technology makes this electrophoresis much more efficient, in effect shortening sequencing time and reducing the amount of DNA and reagents that are needed.


The company says the new sequencer will be able to handle five million bases per day, tackle segments up to 800 bases in length, and cost 90 percent less to operate than currently available machines.


But this new technology will come at a price: according to Shimadzu Biotech Chairman Tetsuo Ichikawa, the system will cost about $530,000.


That retail price is quite a bit steeper than current industry standard machines. The ABI 3700, for example, costs roughly $330,000 and the Amersham MegaBACE retails in the neighborhood of $220,000.


Shimadzu began promoting plans for its new sequencer on Monday with a presentation at the annual PittCon conference here.


Shimadzu projects that the new system will not be commercially available until the first quarter of 2003. It will begin marketing the system to large-scale sequencing centers worldwide and expects to sell 50 units a year by 2005.


GenoMEMS is a spinoff based on microfabrication technology developed at the Whitehead Institute. It is using this technology to develop new sequencing and SNP analysis systems.