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    Christophe Echeverri

    When scientists discovered that short pieces of RNA can shut down specific genes- a phenomenon called “RNA interference”- they hailed the finding as “revolutionary.” As a postdoc in 1998, Christohe Echeverri co-led the first group to successfully test the use of RNA interference to shut down genes selectively across an entire genome. Such an approach could prove crucial to determining what the tens of thousands of genes in animal and human genomes actually do. Scientists had devised a few RNA-based methods for determining gene function, but they were too time-consuming to stride through a full genome, sometimes taking months to analyze a single gene. Echeverri helped lead a team that developed micromachinery, chemical reactions, and algorithms to automate the process and record its outcome. Echeverri says his team uncovered the roles of four to six genes per day. The triumph prompted Canadian-born Echeverri to cofound Dresden, Germany-based Centix BioScience in 1999; the 35-employee company has raised 11 million euros. In partnership with Austin, TX, biotech firm Ambion, Centix is developing the first commercially available human-genome-wide libraries of interfering RNA molecules„ which clients could use to find new drug targets.