Genomics analysis tool hailed

Sequencing specialist Dr Aaron Jeffs uses powerful new genomic testing equipment at the Otago Genomics and Bioinformatics Facility, at the University of Otago yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien
Sequencing specialist Dr Aaron Jeffs uses powerful new genomic testing equipment at the Otago Genomics and Bioinformatics Facility, at the University of Otago yesterday. Photo by Gerard O'Brien
A powerful new genomics analysis tool at the University of Otago is expected to make a significant contribution to cancer research.

Based at the collaborative Otago Genomics and Bioinformatics Facility, in the Otago biochemistry department, it is the first genomics tool of its kind to be installed in this country.

Valued about $400,000, the computerised device - which allows up to 800 genes to be analysed from a single cell - was launched at a function last night. Organisers say this will be a powerful new tool not only for cancer research, but also for undertaking a wide range of other molecular biology investigations.

The machine's services are being offered to researchers throughout the country and abroad through New Zealand Genomics Ltd.

Facility manager Dr Becky Laurie said the technology involved direct digital imaging of the features of individual molecules, such as DNA, and used colour-coded ''bar codes'' to tag genes of interest.

This approach provided an accurate, highly sensitive alternative to standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques, which relied on amplifying tiny amounts of DNA.

The new system would allow researchers to measure subtle changes from small and degraded samples such as cancer biopsy tissue, she said.

Dr Anita Dunbier, an Otago University breast cancer researcher, said the equipment would prove useful for breast cancer research, including through its ability to deal with degraded samples.

Genomics facility officials said the new tool expanded on existing services, and complemented high-throughput gene sequencers, microarray and bioinformatics equipment already available at the facility.

john.gibb@odt.co.nz