Tech innovations fuel biology breakthroughs

Dec 01, 2010
The DNA double helix. New technologies that help drive the blistering pace of discovery in biology were highlighted by a panel of experts in a "top ten" list of game-changing innovations.

New technologies that help drive the blistering pace of discovery in biology were highlighted by a panel of experts Wednesday in a "top ten" list of game-changing innovations.

Number one in the ranking compiled by The Scientist magazine is a so-called "third generation" gene sequencer from US-based company Pacific Biosciences.

The 700,000 dollars (540,000 euros) machine is the first to be able to analyse a string of DNA from a single molecule in real-time, according to the panel.

Dozens of companies are vying for market share in the burgeoning field of personalised genomics, which promises to deliver a host of medical benefits.

Runner-up was a service from US-based Sigma-Aldrich, a top provider of biochemical and for research, that provides custom-made cell lines for pharmaceutical companies.

"Making precise molecular surgery in mammalian systems is hard and tedious work," noted Neil Kelleher, an expert on biosynthesis at Northwestern University and one of the panel's four judges.

Many companies need more efficient engineered cells capable of pumping out proteins and custom cells that mimic a particular human disease, he noted.

Another product, iCell Cardiomyocytes, is essentially human in a test tube.

Cellular Dynamics International, based in Wisconsin, induces human fibroblasts -- the cellular building block of connective tissue -- into becoming so-called .

These are then reprogrammed to produce the mix of cells found in the human heart.

"The main purpose is for ," explained a company spokesman. "Cardiotoxicity is a serious problem in drug development and is the second biggest reason for drug withdrawal from the market."

Another innovation is the only handheld device on the market for counting cells, made by Massachusetts-based EMD Millipore.

The streamlined machine, resembling a cross between an electronic thermometer and a syringe, retails for 2,995 dollars (2,285 euros).

Seven of the 10 companies recognised are based in the United States, while the remaining three are in Britain.

The Scientist, based in Britain, is one of the most widely read science magazines in the world.

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