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Separation: LBNL, LLNL Debut New Magnet Plates for Sequencing and More

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These magnets aren’t exactly the type you’d stick on your refrigerator door.

A new class of hybrid magnet plates has been developed by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, both members of the Joint Genome Institute. The technology can be used in sequencing, functional genomics, and proteomics since it can selectively separate proteins and DNA from various contaminates based solely on a magnetic field.

Developed over the past three years, they are compatible with most 96, 384, and 1,536-well standard microtiter plates. According to LBNL, the technology promises longer read lengths than other sequencing methods allow.

Like a proud dad, David Humphries, LBNL staff engineer and one of the developers of the technology, says that “there is no comparison” to what’s out there now. “I don’t think anyone is likely to duplicate what we’re doing in the near future,” Humphries adds.

He’s been working with the patent department and the technology transfer department to get the hybrid magnet plates marketed. “The response has been greater than what I anticipated,” Humphries says. “I’ve been involved in other patent processes for other mechanical devices that have fallen flat very quickly. There’s nothing that we have seen, in either the patent department and their research or in my experience, that [can] compete with it.”

Humphries considers the magnet plates a significant piece of work. “I think that it is simple, elegant, and non-intuitive — and that’s the best combination of characteristics,” he says. “It’s non-intuitive because of the complex mathematical and physics principles underlying it. So that kind of explains why it’s surprising to people who have been in the biotech industry for the last 10 years or so.”

— Jasmin Chua

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