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Can IBM's DNA transistor someday take genetic sequencing mainstream?

IBM Research on Tuesday unveiled plans to create a "DNA transistor" that would result in personalized genetic testing for about $100 to $1,000. If successful, IBM could take genetic testing mainstream.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

IBM Research on Tuesday unveiled plans to create a "DNA transistor" that would result in personalized genetic testing for about $100 to $1,000. If successful, IBM could take genetic testing mainstream.

In other words, your future Best Buy shopping list may look like this: PC, digital camera, video game and DNA testing machine.

For now, IBM is drilling nano-sized holes in computer-like chips and slurping DNA strands through them to read the genetic code. This DNA transistor would slow the DNA long enough to decode it. The main objective: Create personalized genome analysis to better diagnose and treat health ailments.

The effort, scheduled to be unveiled at the Cleveland Clinic later today, features a team of scientists focused on nanofabrication, microelectronics, physics and biology. This group is trying to thread a DNA molecule through a three nanometer wide hole in a microchip. Each unit of DNA will be read by a sensor.

Here's the architecture:

And a much prettier picture:

But here's the problem: IBM needs to control the rate of DNA strand movement. So far, nobody has figured out how to control a DNA strand as it travels through that three nanometer hole, known as a nanopore. IBM said it is tinkering with the voltage in the nanopore to trap the DNA strand.

It's unclear whether the IBM Research effort will make DNA Transistors a reality, but it's certainly worth a shot.

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