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A Semiconductor DNA Sequencer

• Emily Singer via

Last December, Ion Torrent, something of an upstart in the sequencing industry, launched its new semiconductor-based sequencing machine. At $50,000, it was a comparatively inexpensive device designed to move DNA sequencing from large, specialized centers to the standard lab bench. Now the company says its machine is en route to becoming the most popular one in a competitive market.

Life Technologies, which bought Ion Torrent for $375 million in cash and stock last August, is feeling good about its bet. The technology has already proved its worth as a valuable public health tool. In June, two different groups used the Ion Torrent machine to rapidly sequence the genome of a new strain of E. coli that killed more than 20 people in Europe. The effort helped identify the microbe's drug-resistance genes. And researchers across the globe are using it to sequence genes involved in cancer and other diseases, with the aim of creating rapid tests to determine the best medicine for a patient. 

Ion Torrent is competing with a number of sequencing technologies, all racing to become the fastest and cheapest: a landmark goal in the field is to sequence an entire human genome for $1,000, which would put it on par with many other routine medical tests. But Jonathan Rothberg, Ion Torrent's founder, says his technology, which is based on semiconductors, is getting better faster than anyone else's.

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