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Better DNA Sample Prep Methods Sought in Challenge

DNA strand (NSF)

(James. J. Caras, National Science Foundation)

17 October 2014. A new challenge on InnoCentive is seeking methods that make it possible to prepare DNA samples in the field for sequencing, based on smaller quantities of microbial evidence. The challenge has an award of $25,000 and a deadline of 7 December 2014.

InnoCentive in Waltham, Massachusetts conducts open-innovation, crowdsourcing competitions for corporate and organization sponsors. The sponsor, in this case, is not disclosed. Innocentive calls this type of competition a theoretical challenge that requires a written proposal.

The sponsor of this challenge is seeking better ways of preparing DNA samples in the field — on-site, where samples are collected — for sequencing, which can be of considerable benefit to environmental and energy companies, as well as in forensic investigations. These methods would prepare samples for a type of DNA analysis called metagenomic sequencing that reveals genetic signatures of complex microbial communities.

DNA extraction kits today use technologies such as magnetic particles, known as functionalized magnetic beads, for isolation of nucleic acids, as well as purification and concentration of the samples for further analysis. With metagenomic sequencing, however, the amount of usable specimen material isolated for analysis can be extremely limited, , sometimes as little as 1 picogram, since only trace amounts of the total specimen material are often collected.

Today’s sequencing technologies require 50 nanograms of DNA to return high-quality and reproducible sequencing results. The challenge sponsor is looking for techniques with the sensitivity to process DNA samples as small as 1 to 10 nanograms, and return results of the analysis faster.

Participants in the competition will need to prepare and submit a written proposal with their solutions. To receive the full award, the winning entry will be required to transfer exclusive intellectual property rights to the sponsor. However, the sponsor will consider a partial award in cases where full intellectual property rights cannot be transferred.

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