$2.18 Million Goes Toward DNA Sequencing

UC Irvine’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering has been granted $2.18 million to explore the applications of advancements in nanotechnology toward DNA sequencing. The goal is to create a faster and less expensive method of sequencing DNA by combining new nano-technological developments with current DNA sequencing methods.
The three-year grant was awarded as part of a $15 million initiative by the National Human Genome Research Institute. As leader of the Human Genome Project for the National Institutes of Health, which culminated in the finding of the full human genome sequence in April 2003, NHGRI is now advocating the next step in genome research aimed at improving healthcare and fighting disease.
The UCI grant is intended to facilitate the finding of technology to make DNA sequencing drastically less costly, allowing it to be used as part of routine health care. The institute’s goal is to find a method to make the entire genetic composition of an individual available for $1,000. Currently, it costs about $5 million.
The institute has awarded eight other research grants to develop genome sequencing technologies. However, UCI received the second-largest grant, and the additional researchers are working on the more attainable goal of $100,000 per human genome.
Currently, DNA sequencing involves determining the exact order of the individual chemical building blocks that form DNA. After researchers sequence a piece of DNA, they search for the special strings of sequencing that come from the genes. Analyzing the three billion base pairs that comprise the building blocks of DNA takes months. In the near future, much of that time and money may be eliminated.
H. Kumar Wickramasinghe, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the Henry Samueli endowed chair, is leading the research at UCI along with Robert K. Moyzis, a professor in UCI’s department of biological chemistry and the human genomic coordinator for the Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics. Their process integrates nanotechnology with the Sanger chain-termination method developed by Nobel Prize winner Frederick Sanger in 1975, which was also the method of choice for DNA sequencing used for 30 years for speedy and efficient results.
Wickramasinghe and Moyzis will employ the separation method using the atomic force microscope, which Wickramasinghe himself invented. After this, the researchers will decode the DNA sequence with the help of light concentrated in a probe with an approximately 50-atoms-wide tip. This process could potentially produce results 10,000 times faster and cheaper than the Sanger method alone, which is expensive, time-consuming and heavily reliant on large amounts of chemicals.
Since this procedure operates on a much smaller scale than the Sanger method, it could make DNA easier to analyze and map