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FALL/WINTER 2000-2001

New gene chip technology

Wisconsin Distinguished Graduate Fellows

Mechanics prof is at home (and work) with materials

Materials center gets boost

New gene chip technology

Cerrina talks to Thompson

ECE professor Franco Cerrina (left) describes his research to Governor Tommy Thompson during a tour of the college's Biotechnology Center. view larger image

A group of UW-Madison scientists,including Professor Franco Cerrina of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and the Materials Science Program, has devised 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 such things as 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.

The Wisconsin team also includes a UW-Madison environmental toxicologist, a physicist, biotechnologist, geneticists and a horticulturist.

Such chips were available only from a single company, Affymetrix of Santa Clara, California, and off-the-shelf versions 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.

The new technique, developed by the UW-Madison team, is known as MAS (maskless array synthesizer). It promises to take the technology and put it on the bench top of virtually any research biologist, says horticulturist, geneticist and team member Michael 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 in which researchers shine ultraviolet light through a series of stencil-like masks onto a glass chip. The result: Tens of thousands of DNA molecules of interest are synthesized. Each DNA molecule synthesized on such a chip provides a glimpse of the workings of thousands of genes found in the cells of living organisms.

The Wisconsin team's new technology capitalizes on an off-the-shelf Texas Instruments technology, known as digital light processors, used in overhead projection. At the heart of the technology is an array of 480,000 tiny aluminum mirrors arranged on a computer chip. By manipulating the mirrors, the Wisconsin team can shine light in very specific patterns, eliminating entirely the need for the delicate, expensive masks used in traditional DNA chip technology.

Cerrina says the MAS process is quicker and less expensive. "Instead of several weeks, it takes eight hours to make a chip," he says. MAS potentially could be used to clinically diagnose genetic disease in humans, and holds great promise for various drug discovery schemes and testing other biological building blocks such as proteins and carbohydrates.


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Date last modified: Monday, 17-Jan-2011 17:46:27 CST
Date created: 20-Nov-2001 13:19:00

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