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MIT Technology Review

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  • Stephen Turner

    Age:
    35

    STEPHEN TURNER admits he’s a compulsive inventor: “Whenever I see a device, I think about how to make it better.” At 12,Turner used wires, batteries, and wood to make a light switch his parakeet could operate. As a Cornell University postdoc, he built a minuscule gadget that significantly speeds up the sequencing of DNA. The nano device is just big enough to hold one DNA molecule, one polymerase molecule, and assorted nucleotides. The polymerase copies the DNA using fluorescently labeled bases as building blocks. An optical detector reads the bases, one at a time, as they are assembled. Turner says the approach is more cost effective thanstandard sequencing methods because it requires fewer DNA strands and reagents, and it is potentially 1,000 times faster. Moreover, a million of these nano devices could fit on a chip the size of a penny,supporting a million reactions simultaneously. Turner predicts that the technology could sequence the entire genome of an individual in hours, which would bring much closer the idea of genetic-based personalized medicine. Turner is now chief scientific officer at Nanofluidics, a Cornell spinoff in Ithaca, NY, where he plans to commercialize the technology within five years.