Parabon NanoLabs (PNL),
designs and develops a new class of nano-enabled products made possible by proprietary
technology for precisely directing the self-assembly of designer macromolecules
that are functionalized with molecular subcomponents, announced today its award
of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Small Business Innovative Research
(SBIR) grant. The funds will be used to demonstrate the effectiveness of the
company's new single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) "SNP chip" (pronounced "snip
chip") to rapidly verify identity and kinship using DNA. The goal is to design
a briefcase-size biometrics device that will process a DNA sample and determine
identity or kinship with an accuracy of 99.99%, in under 45 minutes, at a cost
of less than $50.
Current methods of analyzing DNA for identity and kinship verification can
take days and cost hundreds of dollars per test; hence, they are too slow and
expensive to be useful in situations demanding high-throughput, low-cost verification.
PNL will investigate the feasibility of overcoming these limitations by using
SNPs to form biometric signatures. SNPs, which represent the single nucleotide
differences between genomes, are able to account for 90% of all human variation.
The SNP chip uses fluorescent signals from a matrix of SNPs to produce, for
a given subject, a unique biometric signature that provides – by orders
of magnitude – more information, with greater accuracy, than short tandem
repeat (STR) analysis, still the predominant technique used today, even though
it was invented 10 years before the advent of modern sequencing technology.
Parabon's immediate goal is to develop an easy-to-use, desktop biometric
device that, in the future, can be further miniaturized to produce a handheld,
high-speed biometric device. The initial device will be briefcase-sized, capable
of being brought into the field as a single unit, but its modular design will
allow for multiple DNA analyses to be conducted simultaneously, for situations
where a higher throughput is necessary. SNPs are fundamentally conducive to
miniaturization because they do not require the electrophoresis readout process
that STRs require.
PNL's device will have enormous commercial value across the homeland
security, law enforcement, and defense industries. "Beyond DHS'
needs for kinship analysis, a rapid, low-cost DNA-based biometric will have
broad applications in mass-casualty situations, reunification of family members
following mass evacuations, identification of missing persons, rapid processing
of crime-scene and suspect DNA and various scientific and educational uses."
Christopher A. Miles, Biometrics Program Manager, U.S. Department of Homeland
Security (DHS) said. "Rapid DNA-based screening will reduce the fraud
in asylum, refugee and overseas adoptions cases allowing DHS to focus on processing
Researchers at Parabon NanoLabs believe their work will introduce a new paradigm
in DNA analysis – one in which deep kinship inferences may be obtained
from DNA samples. Because of this detailed phenotypic information, SNPs are
ideal for forensic identification, and the approach has been investigated in
Europe, and used in forensic identification of World Trade Center victims.
Parabon NanoLabs has advanced both the fabrication technology required to produce
SNP chips and the computational tools to select the best of the 500,000 known
SNPs that code for human variation. Choosing a mutually independent set of SNPs
for maximal statistical power is an enormous computational challenge that PNL
has addressed using its proprietary inSequio™ Sequence Design Studio,
which enables such calculations using a computational grid comprised of thousands
of computers (grid computing).
"SNPs will, unequivocally, become the dominant method used in DNA analysis,"
stated Dr. Steven Armentrout, Parabon NanoLabs President and CEO. "Until
now, there have been barriers to adoption. However, our SNP chips make their
use fast and affordable. Moreover, they are 'backwards compatible,'
that is, they can produce STR outputs for use with current DNA databases. The
combination of powerful, new capability and compatibility with existing DNA
infrastructure promises to put SNPs on the fast track for widespread usage in
both traditional and novel ways."