Pacific Bioscience

Who

PB is an American biotechnology company founded in 2004 that develops and manufactures systems for gene sequencing. Born as a university start-up, the company won a series of loans that make it one of the most capitalized startups in 2010.

What

DNA contains instructions for defining the characteristics of each individual. At the beginning of the millennium, the conviction developed that the knowledge of the specific genome of each individual allows the prevention and treatment of all diseases. This did not prove to be entirely correct, even if the information contained in each individual's genome represents an essential tool in improving the health of humanity.

The problem, however, is mainly technological: how to read an uninterrupted sequence consisting of 3 billion letters (about the same number of letters as used to write War and Peace) of the size of a third of a nanometer, in a short time and at an affordable cost.

How

The revolutionary intuition was to write the genome instead of reading it, taking advantage of the system already present within living systems and used daily in cell duplication: DNA polymerase, an enzyme that copies the DNA of cells in a new molecule. In the PB patent, however, the 4 nucleotides (the letters) used to write the new DNA are fluorescent and, every time one is added, a flash of light of a characteristic color is emitted associated with that nucleotide A, T C, G. By recording the sequence of colors emitted, the sequence of all DNA is transcribed.

Nanotechnologies

This result would not be possible without a nanometric - scale approach. Nucleotides are smaller than a nanometer, and to avoid errors you must be able to see a flash at a time. It is therefore necessary to confine the nucleotides and the light emitted by them: only a nanometric control of molecules and light, with an intrinsically nano-technological approach, is able to guarantee these conditions and therefore a correct reconstruction of DNA. Furthermore, the technological approach allows the parallel reconstruction of millions of different sequences, making the process quick and cheap.

Success

The new generation DNA sequencing market (NGS)  has seen a significant surge, reaching 1.3 billion in 2013, and doubling in the following years, up to 3 billion in 2017. Thanks to the nanotechnological approach, PB, starting from a university laboratory, has managed  to first collect investments and than to occupy a stable position in the market of NGS systems. A market destined to grow further with the widespread diffusion of NGS systems in all hospitals worldwide.