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Intel bets millions on speedy DNA sequencing chips

Bio-silicon start-up gets $100m

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Intel is among several investors pumping $100m into a biotech start-up that wants to make mapping an individual's genome as routine as taking an X-ray.

Pacific Biosciences of Menlo Park, California anticipates that by 2013 it will be able to sell a DNA sequencer that can tackle a person's entire hereditary information in as little as 15 minutes. The company's technology centers on the SMRT (Single-Molecule, Real-Time) chip, which is DNA sequencing hardware. Interestingly, companies making DNA sequencing machines have been following a Moore's Law type of trajectory where they're reducing both the time and cost associated with cranking through genomes by about half every 18 months.

The technology departs from the current industry-standard Sanger method of gene inspection — used for the Human Genome Project, which took approximately 13 years to complete. PacBio uses a faster machine that inspects longer blocks of DNA sequences. Long reads make it easier to piece together lengthy, repetitive sequences of complex genomes and generate better overlap to reconstruct them.

PacBio's approach is basically to break double-stranded DNA molecules into single fragment strands that are placed in thousands of 70 nanometer-wide holes on top of sequencing chips.

Normally, DNA replicates itself via enzymes called DNA polymerase. When DNA unzips itself, polymerase duplicates the complementary half, and presto, identical cousins. PacBio feeds in nucleotides with fluorescent markers to suss out what's happening in this process.

According to The Wall Street Journal, PacBio's fistfuls of venture money are being provided by Intel Capital (the investment wing of Intel), Deerfield Capital Management, T. Rowe Price, Morgan Stanley, FMR, Alliance Bernstein Holding, Maverick Capital, Redmile Group, Alloy Ventures, DAG Ventures, TEachers' Private Capital, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Mohr Davidow Ventures.

The Journal reports PacBio hopes hospitals will routinely use the technology to identify how people will respond to drugs based on specific genetic markers.

There's also no better way to show your significant other you care than firming up the odds of her getting cancer. ®

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