Leveraging a decade of research with various aspects of missile defense technology, Reveo of Elmsford, NY is developing DNA sequencing techniques that can produce an entire genome in less than a minute, inexpensively, and at a 99.9% accuracy rate. In the early 1990s through 2000, BMDO, the predecessor of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), funded Reveo through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to develop nonlinear optical materials and optoelectronic modulators for space applications, signal processing, and communications.

Reveo's innovation has applications for forensics labs, police investigators, doctors, medical researchers, and the "personal genomics" industry, all of whom seek fast, affordable, and accurate tools to sequence DNA for uses such as drug development, criminal evidence, diagnosis, or tracing one's ancestry.

How it Works

This image shows human chromosomes, which consist of DNA containing many genes. Reveo’s methods offer researchers a tool for quickly producing genetic blueprints (genomes) encoded in DNA.

Reveo's Omni Molecular Recognizer Application (OmniMoRA) device relies on physical contact with individual DNA bases, or molecules called nucleotides, on a stretched-out single DNA strand to read the sequence directly, and uses a series of sensors to relay the results into data. Reveo's technique relies on physical methods rather than the indirect chemical methods that are associated with other DNA sequencing techniques.

OmniMoRA uses electrically conductive probes called "nano-edges" to identify each DNA base by contact, and by both exciting and measuring the vibrational patterns associated with each base. An array of nano-edges looks somewhat like the teeth of a comb. The process is analogous to counting beads with one's fingers, with nano-edges acting as fingers. Reveo developed the nano-edge technology with help from funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Reveo's device will be able to determine the presence and placement of genomic methyl groups, tiny molecules that influence when (or if) a gene will actually be expressed. Current methods for decoding methyl group placement are chemical and not amenable to the high-throughput sequencing that is now available for DNA. Determining positions of these methyl groups is the basis for the new discipline of "epigenetics," a sub-discipline that has prompted the rewriting of genetics textbooks and is now forcing scientists to rethink the dogma on which they have relied for decades. Methylation patterns are thought to hold the key to cancer formation, to name just one example.

Where it Stands

An instantly deciphered genome such as the one promised by Reveo could someday help to "personalize" patients with their unique genetic makeup as it pertains to their treatment, especially in the pharmaceutical area. This information can help make a simple drug like heparin, which is very difficult to dose and medically manage, much safer and more effective.

Reveo has created a spinoff company called ReVase to support technology development. Other SBIR/MDA-funded technologies at Reveo — including high-efficiency polarizing filters and chiral films for many sub-disciplines of missile applications — have led to other Reveo spinoff companies. One example is VRex, which sells a variety of products relating to 3D vision, including projectors, conversion films for laptop screens, and shuttered glasses.

Another spinoff company is Chelix, which sells solar-selective and privacy windows based on cholesteric liquid crystals and electro-optic control. Chelix markets color-shifting pigments for finishes that change hue based on the orientation of the viewer.

More Information

For more information on Reveo's Omni Molecular Recognizer Application device for DNA sequencing, click here . (Source: Joan Zimmermann/NTTC; MDA TechUpdate, Missile Defense Agency, National Technology Transfer Center Washington Operations)

Defense Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the February, 2009 issue of Defense Tech Briefs Magazine.

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