MADISON - The sexiest, most insightful technology in modern genetics, the gene chip, a technology that permits scientists to analyze thousands of genes at once, may soon come within easy reach of most biologists.
Writing in the October issue of the journal Nature Biotechnology, a group of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison describe a new way to cheaply and simply manufacture the customized chips capable of deconstructing long segments of DNA. The technique enables biologists to scour huge chunks of animal and plant genomes in search of the genes that promote disease, the genetic switches that govern such biological phenomena as aging, and the DNA codes that permit microorganisms to make antibiotics.
At present, such chips are available only from a single company, Affymetrix of Santa Clara, Calif. Off the shelf versions of Affymetrix chips cost $2,500. Customized chips containing DNA from specific organisms or tissues can take months to make and cost as much as $12,000 each.
"Now, the chips are expensive. You use it one time and throw it away," said Roland Green, a UW-Madison post-doctoral fellow and a lead author of the Nature Biotechnology paper.
The new technique, according to Michael Sussman, a UW-Madison professor of horticulture and genetics, and a co-author of the paper, is known as MAS for Maskless Array Synthesizer. It promises to take the technology and put it in the laboratory of virtually any research biologist.
"This technology could sit on anyone's bench top," said Sussman. "It will give people the ability to make any array of synthetic compounds, any time."
Gene chip technology now depends on photolithography, a process that requires
shining ultraviolet light through a series of stencil-like masks onto a glass
chip resulting in the synthesis of tens of thousands of DNA molecules of
interest. Each DNA molecule synthesized on such a chip, said Sussman, is like a
window to a wealth of genetic information, provi
Contact: Michael R. Sussman
University of Wisconsin-Madison