Seagate is bringing its lab-on-a-chip technology to Catalog’s DNA storage technology to enable faster and much, much smaller devices to read data stored in DNA. What is a lab-on-a-chip and why is Seagate involved in this concept?
A lab-on-a-chip is a device for carrying out chemical reactions, using minute quantities of fluids, and recording the results. Lab-on-a-chip devices were developed by researchers developing cost-effective and rapid diagnostic tests for patients. These chips include all steps, from sample entry to result, at the point of care, such as the doctor’s office or the patient’s home, rather than in a hospital diagnostic laboratory. They can detect protein markers to diagnose heart disease and nucleic acid markers to look for infectious diseases. The COVID rapid lateral flow test kit can be thought of as a very simple lab test on a chip-sized device, being a single-use, single-function unit to check for the presence of virus antigen COVID in a liquid sample.
Chip labs are functionally specific and can use micro-fluidic technology to move droplets through the device to pre-treat a sample before it is tested. Pre-treatment can purify or amplify the biomarkers tested for presence.
Catalog’s current Shannon technology has demonstrated writing and reading data using DNA storage technology, but the equipment must be housed in a room, which Catalog says is the size of a small kitchen. Seagate says the results of its joint research with Catalog should reduce Shannon’s size by a factor of 1,000 and also increase Catalog’s platform automation and scalability.
Why Seagate is involved in this technology is unclear. Its main purpose is to manufacture hard drives – nothing to do with manufacturing or using chemical labs on a chip. He was involved in fluidics through the use of fluid bearings for disk drive motors. A viscous oil is used instead of metal ball bearings to support the drive shaft. Motors with fluid dynamic bearings have no metal-to-metal contact and are quieter than metal bearings, withstand more shock forces, and have an infinite design life.
But this use of a particular viscous fluid is a far cry from DNA-based lab-on-chip work.
A catalog Blog talks about desktop and IoT-sized devices and says, “The collaboration will focus on using Seagate’s ‘lab-on-chip’ technology to reduce the volume of chemistry required for DNA-based storage and computation. . Using the Seagate platform, tiny droplets of synthetic DNA can test chemistry at significantly lower levels. These droplets will be processed through dozens of tanks on the Seagate platform. DNA from individual reservoirs is mixed to produce chemical reactions for a range of computational functions, including research and analysis, machine learning and process optimization.
This appears to be compute-focused more than storage-focused and not a short-term research effort.
Hyunjun Park, Founding CEO of Catalog, said in a canned quote, “This work with Seagate is key to eventually reducing cost and reducing complexity in storage systems.”
Seagate DNA storage background
In December 2021, nine months ago, Seagate wanted to recruit a research engineer for lab-on-chip work. The job specification requirements document stated, “This position offers a variety of opportunities to prototype, experiment, and benchmark new ideas and concepts in the lab-on-a-chip space.”
“The engineer will be involved in exciting lab-on-chip projects involving design of experiments through to proof of concept. The successful candidate will also work with Seagate’s global team of researchers in device design and manufacturing microfluidics, system evaluation, and analysis and documentation of results for internal and external reports and presentations.
Candidates must have “Theoretical and practical knowledge of DNA amplification techniques (PCR, LAMP, rolling circle amplification, etc.). ”
It is obvious that Seagate Research was then interested in the storage of DNA. In fact, he studied DNA storage for some time before that.
Seagate patents for DNA storage and microfluidics
Seagate has been involved in DNA storage and microfluidics research engineering for two and a half years and has been involved in four patents of which we are aware. For example, Ed Gage, Seagate’s vice president for research, contributes to a patent application involving microfluidics:
- Microwave Heater for Lab On A Chip – Issue number: 20220048032
- Deposit : August 9, 2021
- Publication date: February 17, 2022
- Inventors: Tim Rausch, Edward Charles Gage, Walter R. Eppler, Gemma Mendonsa.
Tim Rausch, now at AWS, was at Seagate between May 2003 and November 2020. Edward Charles Gage is Seagate’s vice president for research. Walter Eppler is a technologist at Seagate Technology. Gemma Mendonsa is a biomedical engineer at Seagate.
Eppler and Mendonsa filed a patent for Methods and systems for reading DNA storage genes in August 2020.
Rausch, Eppler and Mendonsa filed a patent for Microfluidic Lab-on-a-Chip for Gene Synthesis in April 2020. The abstract states: “A microfluidic lab-on-chip system for DNA gene assembly that uses a DNA symbol library and a DNA link library. The lab-on-a-chip has a fluidics platform with a plurality of networks operatively connected to a voltage source and a controller for the voltage source…”
The text of this app reads: “DNA is an emerging technology for storing data. Current methods claim that a strand of DNA or a gene, to store 5 KB of data, can be written in 14 days Comparatively, magnetic disk drives and magnetic tape can both write 1 TB in about an hour A single DNA base pair slot can store 2 bits, so 4000 Giga base pairs should be stored in an hour to match the capabilities of a single disk drive or tape.Although current technology is claimed to be able to write 15 base pairs per hour, there must be an improvement from 8 to 9 orders of magnitude for DNA data storage to be viable.The application includes a “lab-on-chip DNA gene synthesis method” that can speed up the writing of DNA storage.
The three researchers filed a second application in this field in the same month: Gene assembly methods and their use in DNA data storage.
We asked Seagate for a briefing on how and why it got involved in DNA data storage.
Our investigations have developed Gareth McClean, a process engineer – electroplating at Seagate Technology in Derry, Northern Ireland, whose specialties listed in fluorescence-based immunoassay detection systems, focusing on the dot market in the field of medical diagnostics, and also microfluidic-based diagnostic devices in the point-of-care market. It may be a coincidence.
In December 2021, Chinese DNA storage researchers announced that they had developed a SlipChip – a microfluidic device to hold DNA chemicals and various reagents. A single SlipChip can be an electrode and its electrical charge altered by the presence or absence of DNA sequences.
We believe the SlipChip can be categorized as a lab-on-a-chip.