Sequencing chips are part of a semiconductor system which translates base-pair information into digital information, making sequencing quicker and cheaper than ever before. This technology can detect polymerase-driven base incorporation without fluorescence and, therefore, does not require an optical detection system.
Monitoring hydrogen ions
Usually when a polymerase incorporates nucleotides into DNA, a hydrogen ion is released as a byproduct. So when the complementary base is added to the DNA template and the hydrogen ion is released, its positive charge changes the pH of the solution, which is detected by the sequencing apparatus. The chips can convert this chemical information into a digital form and thereby call the base.
The process is described here in more detail:
The chip consists of millions of wells which capture chemical information from DNA sequencing and convert it to digital information, i.e. the identity of the base.
DNA is broken into millions of fragments; each one binds to a bead, where it is copied until it covers the bead.
The beads flow across the chip and each bead deposits into an individual well. The wells are flooded with one of the four nucleotides. When a nucleotide integrates with the ssDNA, a hydrogen ion is released.
A sequencer can read the chemical change on the chip; the hydrogen ions create a pH shift in the solution which the ion sensitive layer beneath the well measures and converts to a voltage. The change in voltage is indicative of the addition of the appropriate nucleotide.
The process occurs with each nucleotide flooding the wells one after the other. The whole process occurs simultaneously in each well, allowing for quick sequencing of large fragments.
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