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Roche Licenses Nanopore Readout Tech to Augment IBM's DNA Transistor Platform


By Monica Heger

Roche this week expanded its footprint in the nascent nanopore sequencing area by licensing technology developed by Stuart Lindsay at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University and Colin Nuckolls at Columbia University.

The license agreement will build on an existing collaboration between Roche and IBM to build a nanopore sequencer based on IBM's so-called "DNA transistor" technology (IS 7/6/2010). Roche said it plans to incorporate Lindsay's and Nuckolls' nanopore readout technology with IBM's platform to create a single-molecule, nanopore DNA sequencer "with the capacity to rapidly decode an individual’s complete genome for well below $1,000."

Roche's senior international marketing manager Mike Catalano said that there is not yet a fixed timeline for when a device would be commercialized. When Roche struck up its agreement with IBM last year, however, it said that the technology could hit the market in about five years.

Lindsay, who directs the Center for Single Molecule Biophysics at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State, has been developing a tunneling technique to read bases as DNA is passed through a nanopore (IS 2/16/2010). The so-called "recognition tunneling" approach uses recognition molecules attached to electrodes to temporarily trap each base and provide distinct electronic signatures for all four bases and 5-methyl C.

"We know we can use tunneling to read bases," Lindsay told In Sequence this week. He added that over the last year his team has improved the chemistry behind the method and also has a better understanding of the physics underlying the tunneling process.

Through collaborations with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, "we've made very large strides in understanding what goes on in the tunnel gap and hopefully this will feed into the engineering that IBM will do."

Lindsay and his colleagues at Arizona State and Oak Ridge National Lab were recently awarded $4.1 million in the latest round of "$1,000 Genome" grants from the National Human Genome Research Institute (IS 8/23/2011). Those funds will support the combination of recognition tunneling with nanopore translocation using metal or graphene nanopores, and metal or carbon nanotube reading electrodes.

Lindsay said he has already combined the tunneling technique with a carbon nanotube, which is a "great technology for reading out bases in a nanoscale environment."

However, the technology will be ultimately commercialized with IBM's DNA transistor technology, which is more scalable. The goal is to make devices that IBM "can stamp out by the millions," based on "conventional electronic materials," he said.

IBM's DNA transistor technology makes use of IBM's vast experience with semiconductors. The device is based on a multilayer metal/dielectric nanostructure that uses voltage biases to control DNA translocation through a pore on a silicon-based chip.

Roche noted that the DNA transistor technology "slows and controls" the DNA molecule as it moves through the nanopore, while the newly licensed readout technology "can decode the bases of the DNA molecule as it passes through."

The company added that both technologies "are centered on semiconductor-based nanopores, which have advantages over protein-based nanopores in terms of control, robustness, scalability, and manufacturability."

Financial details and other terms of the license agreement were not disclosed.

Have topics you'd like to see covered by In Sequence? Contact the editor at mheger [at] genomeweb [.] com.