Life Technologies’ Investments
A key disruptive technology introduced to the market in 2010 by Life Technologies is the Ion Torrent DNA sequencer. It has set a completely new competitive bar in PGMs. This technology eliminates the need for optical readout, instead gathering sequence data by directly sensing hydrogen ions produced by template-directed DNA synthesis.
In less than a year since Life Technologies first commercially launched its PGM, the semiconductor-based instrument became the best-selling sequencing machine in the world. The technology provides low cost and scalable sequencing on a massively parallel semiconductor-sensing device, or ion chip. Reactions are performed using all natural nucleotides, and the individual ion-sensitive chips are disposable and inexpensive. The instrument combines fluidics, micromachining, and semiconductor technology, allowing direct translation of genetic information to digital information.
The firm has ambitious plans for the magic sequencing machine. Last October, the company announced that it will seek FDA 510(k)-clearance for the Ion PGM™ sequencer in 2012 in order to expand it into the clinical setting. The company’s R&D plans will also certainly focus on kits to accompany this PGM, including its AmpliSeq™ Cancer Panel. It is the first product utilizing Ion AmpliSeq technology and covering oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes.
Additionally, Life Technologies has placed a big bet on another potentially disruptive technology, privately held Genia’s biological nanopore technology. In April 2011, Genia closed a strategic investment with Life Technologies. The technology comprises an engineered pore protein embedded in a lipid bilayer membrane. Single-stranded DNA (ssDNA) with its double-stranded end inside the vestibule of the nanopore and single-stranded end threaded through the transmembrane of the nanopore travels through the central pore of the protein.
As the ssDNA travels through the pore, it attenuates the current traveling through the membrane in a sequence-dependent manner, each of the four bases interacting with the nanopore recognition site differently and partially blocking the ion current by a specific amount characteristic of that base’s unique electrochemical interactions with the nanopore recognition site. DNA sequences are computed from the residual currents flowing through the nanopore/DNA complex.
Genia co-founder and CEO, Stefan Roever, commented that the platform can actively control the DNA template, moving it back-and-forth through the nanopore multiple times if needed. "We can oversample, rewind, and read again. You change the applied voltage and the DNA goes backward. If you capture the DNA in the pore, you can ‘dental floss’ it; you can read it 10–20 times." Roever would not detail the read-out mechanism, other than to say, "our approach relies on some IT to reassemble those sequences.
"If Ion Torrent—electrical detection but requiring amplification—and Pacific Biosciences—single-molecule but optical—are third-generation sequencing technologies, then we’re fourth generation: single molecule, electrical detection," said Roever. "That’s the holy grail because it combines low-cost instruments with simple sample prep. So we’d like to think of it as last-gen!"