When Oxford Nanopore Technologies, Ltd. (ONT) announced agreements with four American and three British universities to license DNA sensing technology and to fund future research, the University of Illinois was one of the four thanks to Beckman Institute researchers Jean-Pierre Leburton, Aleksei Aksimentiev, and Rashid Bashir, as well as their collaborators and campus support facilities.
Several Beckman and Illinois researchers have contributed over the years in developing solid state nanopore technology, but Leburton, Aksimentiev, and Bashir will be co-Principal Investigators in future research, funded by ONT for developing the DNA sensing method. Their mission is to create what has been a long sought-after goal in genomics research: low-cost, fast, reliable, and highly-accurate sequencing of a person’s whole genome.
“Something like this can have very broad applications, being able to sequence DNA at a very low cost,” Bashir said.
Leburton is from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), while Aksimentiev is faculty in the Department of Physics, and Bashir is faculty in ECE and Bioengineering, as well as Director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory. As to their roles in this project, Leburton is the theorist who also does computer device modeling, while Bashir is an experimentalist who will be fabricating the technology, and Aksimentiev does computer modeling that has included breakthrough molecular dynamics simulations.
“For me the theoretical part is interesting as a physicist but also I wish to find applications of my work,” Leburton said. “This is one that will certainly be very beneficial for humanity and society.”
“I’m excited about seeing the impact of my research efforts in everyday life and the well-being of people,” Aksimentiev said.
The Illinois technology being developed potentially has numerous advantages over other methods, including that it is solid state, multilayer, and does not require splitting the DNA into two strands, or denaturing, and then amplifying the DNA molecule, as happens in current methods. The basic design is a solid-state, multilayer semiconductor membrane that uses nanopores about the diameter of a single DNA molecule (roughly a billionth of a meter wide). Using electric fields, single DNA molecules are passed through the nanopore, and a detector reads the sequence.
Oxford Nanopore Technology, a British company, is a leader in the area of nanoscale sensing technology, with existing licensing agreements with institutions such as Harvard and the University of Oxford. The company’s focus is on the development of nanopore sensing technology for the analysis of DNA, RNA, proteins and other single molecules.
The research funding and licensing agreements are separate. The Sponsored Research Agreement with ONT is funding the research of the three co-PIs, who are integrating their work in this area. The licensing agreement is for a package of patents and patent applications.
The other universities involved in the agreements announced by ONT are Brown, Stanford, and Boston University in the U.S. and, in England, the universities of Cambridge and Southhampton.
To read the press release from Oxford Nanopore Technology, click here.