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Parabon NanoLabs Awarded DHS Small Business Innovative Research Grant

Published on September 30, 2009 at 8:55 AM

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 legitimate applications."

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[1], and used in forensic identification of World Trade Center victims[2].

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."

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