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ZyGem, Lockheed Martin Developing DNA ID Platform Based on Infrared PCR

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By Ben Butkus

ZyGem said this week that it is developing a PCR-based "sample-to-answer" DNA analysis system in collaboration with Lockheed Martin for law enforcement, homeland security, and defense applications.

The platform, called RapI.D., is based on a new technique called infrared PCR, and is the first iteration of the microfluidic-based DNA testing platform ZyGem took on when it acquired MicroLab Diagnostics earlier this year for an undisclosed sum, a company official said this week (PCR Insider, 5/26/10).

In a statement, ZyGem said that the platform "leverages the latest in microfluidics research and development to accelerate the DNA identification process … essentially building a laboratory on a small, single chip that reduces the processing steps and time needed for analysis."

The company said that traditional nucleic acid amplification-based analysis techniques can take anywhere from five to 10 hours from purifying a DNA sample through to capillary electrophoresis. RapI.D. will aim to cut that time to about an hour and include all steps – sample prep, PCR, and capillary electrophoresis – all on one instrument.

Details of the platform are still under wraps, but ZyGem CEO Paul Kinnon wrote in an e-mail to PCR Insider that the amplification function of the platform uses so-called infrared PCR "that is part of our MicroLab intellectual property."

Very little information on infrared PCR appears in the scientific literature; however, James Landers, a professor at the University of Virginia who founded MicroLab Diagnostics and became ZyGem's CSO after the acquisition, works on the technique in his laboratory.

Landers could not be reached for comment; however, according to his laboratory's website, his group develops "integrated microdevices" that enable "multiple analytical steps on a single device, with the possibility of automating the entire sample-analysis process."

Specifically, the lab is developing a "glass microdevice" designed to perform solid phase extraction of DNA and "infrared-mediated amplification in a novel format – with both processes in the same chamber."

This approach "provides an inherent advantage over any microchip-based DNA extraction described previously in that all of the sample DNA is used for nanoliter amplification, improving detection limits by one to two orders of magnitude," the site states.

In a statement, Kinnon described RapI.D. as a "compact platform that can analyze DNA simply, accurately, and rapidly, enabling DNA identification to be used more widely and in many more settings." Kinnon underscored forensic and government labs as "critical near-term markets for our technology."

Kinnon also told PCR Insider that the system is designed to use both commercially available PCR kits "as well as optimized cocktails of commercial kits and our own reagents."

ZyGem unveiled RapI.D. at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and National Security Agency's Biometrics Consortium Conference, held this week in Tampa, Fla.

ZyGem said that the system is currently in prototype stage at its MicroLab facility in Charlottesville, Va., and that it expects to release a beta version for testing in "select laboratories" early next year.

Financial details of ZyGem's partnership with Lockheed Martin have not been disclosed.

"Our law enforcement, homeland security, and defense communities face a significant challenge in how quickly they can confirm an individual's identity," John Mears, director of Lockheed Martin Biometric Solutions, said in a statement.

"Our goal with the RapI.D. … is to transform today's identification process from one that takes a great deal of training, sophisticated equipment, and days or weeks to complete, into an affordable, on-site process that takes less than one hour," Mears added.

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