European chip manufacturer ST Microelectronics has developed a prototype that could make it easier and cheaper to scan DNA for genetic diseases.
The company said that the device integrates DNA amplification and detection on the same chip.
The processor is based on Micro-Electro Mechanical System (Mems) technology, which applies silicon chip manufacturing technologies to produce miniature devices with a combination of mechanical, electrical, fluidic and optical elements.
In other words, the chip is able to carry out several of the processes needed to scan DNA for genes. This would previously have required many different types of laboratory equipment.
ST said that the DNA analysis chip is primarily targeted at medical diagnostics to detect genetically related disease directly.
Other applications could include drug discovery, the testing of livestock for genetic disease, and the monitoring of water supplies for biological contamination.
"The advantage of using silicon rather than plastic or glass for this function is that it has excellent thermal properties, which is extremely useful in analysis techniques like the Polymerase Chain Reaction which are based on temperature cycling," said Benedetto Vigna, manager of ST's Mems Development Unit.
"In addition it can readily be 'micro-machined' using well known and cost effective silicon chip manufacturing techniques."
ST is currently looking for potential partners in the biomedical field to make the chip a commercial reality.
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