Science & Tech

NHGRI/NIH awards team $6.5M to advance DNA sequencing using Nanopores

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The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health
(NIH), awarded a $6.5 (over 4 years) grant to a team of Harvard University researchers to further develop electronic sequencing in nanopores. The grant is part of more than $20 million in total funding
given by NHGRI/NIH to spur innovative sequencing technologies inexpensive and efficient enough to sequence a person’s DNA as a routine part of biomedical research and health care.

Daniel Branton, Higgins Professor of Biology, Emeritus, in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) and Professor Jene Golovchenko, Rumford Professor of Physics and Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics, in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Department of Physics (FAS), who lead the Nanopore group at Harvard, will oversee the research.

The team is among several grant winners who are developing nanopores (holes about two nanometers in diameter) that may be able to recognize individual DNA bases by their electrical or ionic signals to achieve
high-accuracy sequencing of individual DNA molecules. The goal of the Harvard scientists is to design and optimize nanopore technology using novel electronic control and sensing methods to create a nanopore
detector chip capable of sequencing a mammalian genome within a day on a single instrument.

In fact, for the past decade, the lab has been investigating electronic methods of rapidly detecting, characterizing and sequencing single molecules of DNA. The group’s research has lead to the development of the first solid–state nanopore structures through which individual DNA molecules could be passed and electronically detected. Recently they have shown that a single DNA molecule can be made to pass back and forth
through, and electronically interrogated, many times, by the same nanopore.

Branton, Golovchenko, and colleagues are now advancing the understanding of the physical properties of these nanopores and the DNA polymers confined in them. They are using and developing advanced physics and
material science tools to fabricate sophisticated nanopore devices needed to better understand the molecular interactions, transport, and electronic, and signal processing mechanisms needed for sequencing.

The NHGRI/NIH award comes on the heels of a recent agreement for the Nanopore Group to work with UK-based Oxford Nanopore Technologies to integrate discoveries and research aimed at advancing the broader field of nanopore science. Harvard University’s Office of Technology Development (OTD) came to a formal licensing and funding agreement with the UK-based firm on August 5th.

Oxford Nanopore has exclusive rights to support and commercialise a number of nanopore technological breakthroughs developed by Branton, Golovchenko, and co-collaborator George Church, Professor of Genetics at
Harvard Medical School, as well as related technologies developed with the Harvard team’s research partners at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology