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IBM targets 'DNA Transistor'; personal genetic testing for $100

IBM targets 'DNA Transistor'; personal genetic testing for $100

Posting in Architecture

IBM Research on Tuesday unveiled plans to create a "DNA transistor" that would result in personalized genetic testing for about $100 to $1,000.

IBM Research on Tuesday unveiled plans to create a “DNA transistor” that would result in personalized genetic testing for about $100 to $1,000. If successful, IBM could take genetic testing mainstream.

In other words, your future Best Buy shopping list may look like this: PC, digital camera, video game and DNA testing machine.

For now, IBM is drilling nano-sized holes in computer-like chips and slurping DNA strands through them to read the genetic code. This DNA transistor would slow the DNA long enough to decode it. The main objective: Create personalized genome analysis to better diagnose and treat health ailments.

The effort, scheduled to be unveiled at the Cleveland Clinic later today, features a team of scientists focused on nanofabrication, microelectronics, physics and biology. This group is trying to thread a DNA molecule through a three nanometer wide hole in a microchip. Each unit of DNA will be read by a sensor.

Here’s the architecture:

And a much prettier picture:

But here’s the problem: IBM needs to control the rate of DNA strand movement. So far, nobody has figured out how to control a DNA strand as it travels through that three nanometer hole, known as a nanopore. IBM said it is tinkering with the voltage in the nanopore to trap the DNA strand.

It’s unclear whether the IBM Research effort will make DNA Transistors a reality, but it’s certainly worth a shot.

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Larry Dignan

Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Larry Dignan is editor-in-chief of SmartPlanet and ZDNet. He is also editorial director of TechRepublic. Previously, he was an editor at eWeek, Baseline and CNET News. He has written for WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, New York Times and Financial Planning. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Delaware. He is based in New York but resides in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure