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Body + BrainBody & Brain

The Gene Machine and Me

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next

Eliza Strickland, writing for IEEE Spectrum:

My personal quest for genetic enlightenment begins with a visit to Ion Torrent’s black glass headquarters in a Guilford, Conn., office park. Ion Torrent isn’t really Rothberg’s baby anymore—the company was bought by biotech giant Life Technologies Corp. in 2010 for $725 million—but he still strides through the facility with a proprietary air. He beams as we tour labs where biochemists and electrical engineers work side by side. The windows, pressed into service as extra whiteboards, are covered with scribbled sketches of molecular diagrams and circuit diagrams alike.

Several other companies are also racing toward the $1000-genome goal. But Rothberg was the first to tap into the accumulated expertise of the computer industry with a method he calls “semiconductor sequencing.” Inspired by the cover of a computer magazine in a hospital waiting room, he figured out how to use an integrated circuit to record how a DNA molecule is built out of chemical components, and how to turn that chemical information into a digital readout.