IBM seeks to build Nanoscale DNA sequencer for personalized genetic analysis

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IBM scientists are attempting to drill nano-sized holes in computer chips and passing DNA strands through them one base at a time to read the genetic code contained within their biological structures.

The research effort to design a silicon-based DNA Transistor could help pave the way to read human DNA, generating advancements in health condition diagnosis and treatment, according to the Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM. The company said the challenge is to slow the flow of the DNA through the hole so the reader can accurately decode what is in the DNA. If successful, the project could improve throughput and reduce cost to achieve the vision of personalized genome analysis at a cost of $100 to $1,000.

A team of IBM scientists from three fields—microelectronics, physics and biology—are converging to master the technique that threads a long DNA molecule through a three nanometer wide hole, known as a nanopore, in a silicon microchip, the company said. A nanometer is one one-billionth of a meter or about 80,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. As the molecule is passed through the nanopore, it is ratcheted one unit of DNA at a time, as an electrical sensor “reads” the DNA. The information gathered from the reader could be used to gain a better understanding of an individual’s medical makeup to help further the pursuit of personalized healthcare.