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EcoArray Launches Services Arm, Preps Agilent-Made Arrays for Environmental Testing

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By Justin Petrone

Environmental genomics firm EcoArray last week launched DNA Precision, a division of the Gainesville, Fla.-based firm that will offer gene discovery, Agilent array processing, and bioinformatics services to other scientists, especially those involved in medical research.

CEO John Rogers told BioArray News this week that service projects run through EcoArray's DNA Precision division will supplement the firm's revenue stream as it focuses its internal R&D efforts on producing arrays for routine environmental monitoring.

"We’re using gene discovery and analysis to develop testing for the environmental market," Rogers said. "Those same techniques are being used in genetic research, research pointing at personalized medicine and the like, and those markets are larger than environmental testing," he said. "We wanted to offer our services to a broader market, and we can provide the Good Laboratory Practices procedures these new markets often require."

According to Rogers, EcoArray instituted GLP procedures this quarter. The company is now hoping to attract large service projects in human and animal testing that are outside of its environmental research area of expertise. "Our business now is primarily from environmental researchers, but we would like to spread out into more government and medical research," Rogers said. "I would love to get a medical center, for instance, that wanted to do a lot of arrays."

Barbara Carter, EcoArray's research director, said in a statement that EcoArray had developed its processes with a focus on environmental testing as "little work had been done in genomics in this area." She said that EcoArray will offer gene libraries, contract sequencing, microarray development, microarray processing, PCR primer design, and bioinformatics as part of the service.

"We developed core skills in pursuit of EcoArray’s strategic plan," Rogers said. "Offering those same, proven skills to a broader market will, we hope, lead to increased revenue," he said. "We have a business model that is based on developing this technology for use in environmental testing," Rogers added. "We hope this will supplement our revenues and build itself into an independent business just doing laboratory services."

Model Organisms

Founded in 2002, EcoArray primarily focuses on making arrays for environmental toxicology studies. The firm partnered with Agilent Technologies in 2005 to produce a microarray for monitoring the genetic response of fathead minnow, a model organism commonly used in fresh water testing (see BAN 11/23/2005). A 22,000-gene fat head minnow array was introduced in 2006.

"Most of our time over the last year has been spent analyzing results from a series of fathead minnow exposures to develop biomarker patterns associated with major toxicants of concern to the [US Environmental Protection Agency]," Rogers said. Specifically, EcoArray participated in projects with researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the EPA, and J&J that used the fathead minnow array.

"The focus of all those projects has been to acquire a library of information of what happens when different chemicals and materials are shown to these fish, which are standard for freshwater testing in the US," Rogers said. "We would like to come up with series of biomarker patterns that will allow us to identify which batch of chemicals may have been affecting fish in the wild," he said. "Using such a chip, you could, for example, take a fathead minnow located near a waste treatment plant and see what chemicals are affecting those fish."

The main customers of such an array would be environmental testing companies, Rogers said. EcoArray has also developed 44,000-gene arrays for large and small-mouth bass and a 5,000-gene chip for Daphnia magna, a planktonic crustacean. Additionally, EcoArray is developing a sheepshead minnow array for saltwater testing. All arrays are manufactured by Agilent.

"The bass, sheepshead, and Daphnia are common model organisms for environmental testing," Rogers said. "The bass, for example, is valuable to state fish and wildlife services because it's an important game fish," he said.

Eventually, EcoArray would like to employ all of the arrays in projects to develop model organism arrays that could be used to detect certain contaminants in order to meet EPA guidelines. Fathead minnow, though, will be the first to go through such a development process.

"Fathead will be the first one through," Rogers said. "The others? Sure, we have similar ambitions for them but for later."

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