An integrated circuit could help to halve the time it is currently estimated that it will take to complete the Human Genome Project worldwide quest to identify all the genes of the human species. Scientists at Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory have announced a commercial agreement allowing Sunnyvale, California-based Hyseq Inc to use a biochemical chip […]
An integrated circuit could help to halve the time it is currently estimated that it will take to complete the Human Genome Project worldwide quest to identify all the genes of the human species. Scientists at Chicago’s Argonne National Laboratory have announced a commercial agreement allowing Sunnyvale, California-based Hyseq Inc to use a biochemical chip developed at Argonne to analyse genes rapidly. The chip is a 1 square special plate capable of decoding the chemical sequence of hundreds of genes in one pass. Hyseq has also gained non-exclusive worldwide rights to software used to analyse and interpret the genetic code deciphered by the technique, Sequencing -by- Hybridization. Reportedly, the technique can spell out the chemical subunits of genes 1,000 times faster and 10 times more economically than methods now in use. The core technology was invented and patented by Hyseq’s vice-presidents of research, Radoje Drmanac and Radomir Crkvenjakov, two Serbian researchers formerly at Argonne, who claim they will sequence 15,000 commercially useful genes by 1997. Over the past 20 years only between 2,000 and 3,000 human genes have been sequenced in their entirety. And by commercially, useful Hyseq estimates that the genes could generate $1,000m a year in revenues. Costs of deciphering the entire genome under current technology have been estimated at $1 a sub-unit, of which there are 3,000m, and the process is laborious and slow. Modern genome labs can read 1m base pairs in a year. The Argonne system is said to be able to do 1m in a day. Gene sequencing is the process of deciphering and ordering the chemical sequences of DNA base pairs that make up the 100,000 human genes, the blueprint of life in the nucleus of each cell. The complexity of analysing the human genome has been compared to searching out and rebuilding from scratch every old Volkswagen Beetle. Once a gene is found and sequenced, scientists can study its function, which can lead to the development of treatments for genetic diseases or defects, and diagnostic practices for early detection of hereditary diseases, such as some types of cancer. The deal between Hyseq and Arch Development Corp, a not-for-profit but commerical arm of the University of Chicago, which runs the laboratory for the US Department of Energy, represents the type of technology transfer that the $3,000m Genome Project was designed to encourage and upon which its fate depends. There are about 350 laboratories working to develop technologies to complete the mass project by the year 2006. Financial details of the agreement were not revealed.