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Ion Torrent Patent App Suggests Sequencing Tech Using Chemical-Sensitive Field-Effect Transistors

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A recently published patent application by Ion Torrent Systems reveals details about a potential new sequencing technology that the firm might be developing commercially.

However, it is unclear whether the company is currently developing a DNA-sequencing platform.

Ion Torrent, which has locations in Guilford, Conn., and San Francisco, was founded by Jonathan Rothberg, the founding CEO of 454 Life Sciences.

The firm has not yet talked publicly about its technology, which its website describes as "groundbreaking and highly disruptive."

Ion Torrent's first published patent application came online Jan. 29, and is entitled "Methods and apparatus for measuring analytes using large-scale FET arrays." The two inventors listed on it are Rothberg and Wolfgang Hinz, whose title and affiliation with Ion Torrent is unknown.

The application describes a DNA sequencing method that uses arrays of chemical-sensitive field effect transistors, or FETs, to detect how nucleotides incorporate into growing strands of DNA by measuring changes in current.

"Applicants have recognized and appreciated that large arrays of [ion-sensitive] FETs may be particularly configured and employed to facilitate DNA sequencing techniques based on monitoring changes in chemical processes relating to DNA synthesis," according to the document, such as changes in pH, ions, or other analytes.

The application also seeks to protect "various microfluidic structures which may be employed to flow reagents/analytes to and from the wells or pixels … and methods and apparatus for loading the wells with DNA-bearing beads when the apparatus is used for DNA sequencing or related analysis."

It was not immediately clear whether Ion Torrent Systems is developing a DNA sequencing platform. John Leamon, the firm's director of molecular biology, told In Sequence this week that the company "at this time is not commenting on its products or services."

Ion Torrent recently disclosed the members of its scientific and business advisory boards (see Paired Ends in this issue). According to its website, the firm currently seeks to fill approximately 20 positions in technology and software development, operations, legal, and finance.

The company also says on its website that it has "strong financial backers," but does not provide any details.

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