Fast, cheap gene-scanner BioNanomatrix gets $5M

bionanomatrix-logo.jpgBioNanomatrix, a Philadelphia developer of genome-analysis systems, raised $5.1 million in a first funding round. Investors included Battelle VenturesInnovation Valley PartnersKT Venture GroupBen Franklin Technology Partners and21Ventures.

BioNanomatrix is developing a single-molecule imaging and analysis system that the startup says is ideal for reading DNA sequences. The startup still isn’t divulging many details about its system, although the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested that the company’s “nanofluidics” technology could potentially read all three billion bases from a single DNA molecule without chopping it up first — a common step in most sequencing setups these days, albeit one that also increases the complexity of reassembling the fragmented sequences into a coherent whole.

According to that article, in fact, BioNanomatrix has produced a nanofabricated chip with more than a mile of tiny channels that can accomodate the full DNA molecules from all 46 chromosomes of 200 people at a time. That’s pretty spectacular if true, although of course the challenge with this sort of technology is always proving that it does what the company says it should.

We previously covered BioNanomatrix last October, when the company formed a joint venture with Complete Genomics of Menlo Park, Calif. The two companies, which shared an $8.8 million grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology last year, are aiming to sequence an entire human genome in eight hours for $100, although they haven’t set a date by which they hope to accomplish that feat. It’s a nice bragging point, since that’s about an order of magnitude faster and cheaper than anyone else is predicting at the moment, but it’s also little more than an unsubstantiated claim for the moment.

For more coverage of the high-speed genomics race, see my previous posts onPacific Biosciences and its nanowell techniqueIntelligent Bio-Systems’ $5,000 genome challenge, and VisiGen’s promise of a $1,000 genome by the end of 2009. Don’t miss my Q&A with MDV’s Bill Ericson about the medical promise of fast, cheap genome scans.