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Man behind Moore's Law donates DNA sequence

Posted: 08 Nov 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Moore's Law? semiconductor sequencer? DNA?

Gordon Moore captivated a generation with his prophetic foreshadowing that the density of semiconductor devices would double every year or two - a prediction that has been so dependable that commentators have enshrined it as: Moore's Law.

And even as we approach the end of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), when bottom-up molecular self-assembly is predicted to take over from today's top-down subtractive lithography - the density of new devices is still expected to double every few years, extending Moore's legacy indefinitely even in new fields such as biotechnology.

The most bizarre twist in Moore's continuing legacy, however, came last year when he donated his entire DNA sequence to science. The Moore genome is now deposited in the European Nucleotide's Sequence Read Archive (SRA, access number ERP000682). An amazing array of facts are now public knowledge regarding Moore's genetic heritage, such as that his mitochondria - the sub-micron "life-force" organelle inside his cells - belongs to the most common haplogroup in Europe.

Sequencing Moore's genome, however, had nothing to do with vanity. On the contrary, it was based on the fact that Moore's Law now applies to biotechnology, making his contribution to a public database the first step in a process that will eventually benefit all of humankind.

Here's the scoop: Moore's genome was the first to be sequenced on a new invention called a "semiconductor sequencer" or "silicon sequencer."

Today DNA micro-arrays are passive and must use slow-working external optics to read out their results from the millions of micron-sized wells in which the donor's DNA is deposited. The semiconductor sequencer, on the other hand, builds the DNA micro-array atop an active CMOS chip, enabling electronics at the bottom of each well to instantly sense the DNA sequence there.

The technique, called "ion semiconductor sequencing," was licensed from DNA Electronics Ltd. (London) by Ion Torrent Systems Inc. (South San Francisco, Calif.) just 20 miles north of Moore' residence in Woodside. Moore consented to allow his genome to be sequenced by its personal DNA sequencer, which uses standard polymerase synthesis, but senses the results with ion-sensitive field-effect transistors (ISFETS) buried at the bottom of each well. Since each current generation CMOS chip has about a million wells, it took over one thousand microchips to sequence the billions of bases in Moore's DNA.

Here's the punch line: since the silicon sequencer is now based on a semiconductor chip, Moore's Law predicts that the number of wells that fit on each chip will double every couple of years. Consequently, by the end of the semiconductor roadmap circa 2024, a single CMOS chip will be able to sequence anyone's entire genome.

- R. Colin Johnson
??EE Times

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