Dna Sequencing Enters The Superfast Lane

Deciphering the 100,000 or so genes that make up human DNA is a mind-boggling task. It entails sequencing about 3 billion information blocks called "base pairs" whose unique linear order determines the function of each gene. Researchers depend on two technologies to sequence: so-called gel sequencing, developed in the 1970s, and sequencing by hybridization, or SBH, a patented technology invented in the early 1990s and owned by Hyseq Inc. in Sunnyvale, Calif. SBH has an edge: It can be one-twentieth as expensive and at least five times as fast as the older process.

Now, Hyseq intends to make it even faster. It has licensed a "superchip" technology invented at Argonne National Laboratory that allows SBH to be done on a 1-inch-square plate and that can identify the chemical sequence of genes 1,000 times faster than gel sequencing. It will take some four years and up to $20 million to complete development.

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