Oxford Nanopore announces licence agreement with Harvard University for graphene DNA sequencing

Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd ("Oxford Nanopore") today announced an exclusive agreement with Harvard University's Office of Technology Development ("Harvard") for the development of graphene for DNA sequencing. Graphene is a robust, single atom thick ‘honeycomb’ lattice of carbon with high electrical conductivity. These properties make it an ideal material for high resolution, nanopore-based sequencing of single DNA molecules.

Under the terms of the agreement, Oxford Nanopore has exclusive rights to develop and commercialize methods for the use of graphene for the analysis of DNA and RNA, developed in the Harvard laboratories of Professors Jene Golovchenko, Daniel Branton, and Charles Lieber. The agreement adds to an existing collaboration between Oxford Nanopore and Harvard that spans basic methods of nanopore sensing through to the use of solid-state nanopores. Oxford Nanopore will also continue to support fundamental nanopore research at Harvard.

“Graphene is emerging as a wonder material for the 21st century and recent research has shown that it has transformative potential in DNA sequencing.” said Dr Gordon Sanghera, CEO of Oxford Nanopore Technologies. “The groundbreaking research at Harvard lays the foundation for the development of a novel solid-state DNA sequencing device. We are proud to partner with the research team that pioneered early nanopore discoveries and continues to break boundaries with new materials and techniques.

"Oxford Nanopore is probably best known for protein nanopores,” continued Dr Sanghera. “However, today’s agreement highlights that we are increasing our investment in solid-state nanopores by adding graphene to our existing portfolio of solid-state nanopore projects and collaborations.”

In a landmark 2010 Nature publication (S. Garaj et al, Nature Vol 467,doi:10.1038/nature09379) the Harvard team and collaborators used graphene to separate two chambers containing ionic solutions, and created a hole - a nanopore – in the graphene. The group demonstrated that the graphene nanopore could be used as a trans-electrode, measuring a current flowing through the nanopore between two chambers. The trans-electrode was used to measure variations in the current as a single molecule of DNA was passed through the nanopore. This resulted in a characteristic electrical signal that reflected the size and conformation of the DNA molecule.
At one atom thick, graphene is believed to be the thinnest membrane able to separate two liquid compartments from each other. This is an important characteristic for DNA sequencing; a trans-electrode of this thickness would be suitable for the accurate analysis of individual bases on a DNA polymer as it passes through the graphene.

Nanopore techniques aim to improve substantially the cost, power and complexity of DNA sequencing. While first generation technologies in development at Oxford Nanopore use nanopores made by porous proteins, subsequent generations will use synthetic ‘solid-state’ materials such as silicon nitride. However, at this time challenges remain in industrial fabrication of synthetic nanopores with the required dimensions and electronic properties. Graphene offers a potential solution due to its strength, dimensions, electrical properties and future potential for low-cost manufacturing.


Oxford Nanopore Technologies

Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd is developing a novel technology for direct, electronic detection and analysis of single molecules using nanopores. The GridION technology platform is designed to offer substantial benefits in a variety of applications; the Company’s lead application is DNA sequencing but the platform is adaptable for the analysis of proteins and other single molecules. DNA sequencing techniques in development include exonuclease sequencing and strand sequencing, both of which combine a protein nanopore with a processive enzyme, multiplexed on a silicon chip.

The Company also has collaborations for the development of solid-state nanopores. Oxford Nanopore has collaborations and exclusive licensing deals with leading institutions including the University of Oxford, Harvard and UCSC. The Company has funding programmes in these laboratories to support the science of nanopore sensing. Oxford Nanopore has licensed or owns more than 250 patents and patent applications that relate to all aspects of nanopore sensing from protein nanopores to solid state nanopores and for the analysis of DNA, proteins and other molecules. This includes the use of functionalised solid-state nanopores for molecular characterisation, methods of fabricating solid-state nanopores and modifications of solid-state nanopores to adjust sensitivity or other parameters.
More information about the Company’s patent portfolio.


Nature publication 1Graphene as a subnanometre trans-electrode membrane, S. Garaj, W. Hubbard, A. Reina, J. Kong, D. Branton & J. A. Golovchenko. Nature Vol 467,doi:10.1038/nature09379 (Sept 2010)

This publication describes the use of graphene as a trans-electrode, detecting a DNA strand as it passes through a hole in the graphene sheet. A sheet of graphene was stretched over a silicon-based frame, and inserted between two separate liquid reservoirs. An electrical voltage was applied between the reservoirs and when a nanopore was formed in the graphene this allowed the flow of an ionic current through the nanopore.

This current could be measured as an electrical current signal using the trans-electrode properties of graphene. Double-stranded DNA strands were added to one chamber and electrophoretically driven through the nanopore. This created a characteristic electrical signal that reflected the size and conformation of the DNA molecule. Graphene is thin enough to interact with individual nucleotides on a DNA strand as it passes through the nanopore, and therefore suitable for further development as a solid state DNA sequencing tool. Graphene Graphene is a single atom thick sheet of carbon – one layer of graphite. The carbon atoms are arranged in a hexagonal planar structure. Graphene has extremely high strength-to-weight ratio and has higher electrical conductivity than silicon. The material has been proposed as suitable for many future applications including a range of electronic nanodevices, batteries, touch screens, transmitters and receivers for broadband communications.

In 2010, the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to two scientists who made and discovered the properties of graphene, Professors Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of the University of Manchester, UK. Institute of Physics briefing on graphene: http://www.iop.org/publications/iop/2011/file_48027.pdf