Since the launch of the PacBio system in 2011, there has been a constant development and improvement of the methods involved (e.g. former posts here).
However, efficient loading of the Zero-Mode Waveguides (ZMWs) with polymerase molecules still remains a challenge. The ZMWs are tiny wells in which the actual sequencing reactions take place. Each SMRT cell consists of 150,000 ZMWs. However, with current methods, only about 1/3 of the ZMWs is actually useable after loading. The polymerase molecules are loaded onto the ZMWs by simple diffusion – resulting in ZMWs which carry one, more than one, or no polymerase molecule. As a consequence, each SMRT cell typically generates only approx. 50,000 reads per run.
A group of researchers from the Technical University of Braunschweig, Germany, has now used “DNA Origami” in order to efficiently place molecules into ZMWs.
DNA origami is a fascinating technique which uses the unique properties of DNA in order to create nanostructures by “folding” DNA into the required shapes. A ground-breaking article on DNA origami has been written by Paul Rothemund in 2006.
The researchers from Braunschweig have now created “nanoadapters” which exactly fit the size of the ZMWs. As a consequence, there cannot be more than one molecule in a ZMW. The nanoadapters carry a fluorescent dye on top and biotin molecules on the bottom side. These biotin molecules serve in fixing the nanoadapters to the bottom of the ZMW via neutravidin. In principle, the fluorescent dye could be replaced by a polymerase molecule. This approach greatly increased the loading efficiency to approx. 60 percent.
However, according to InSequence, the research group did not co-operate with PacBio for this project. In parallel, PacBio is working on other methods to increase the loading efficiency of their SMRT cells. But I am sure that there will be (and has to be) an improvement soon- no matter by which methods.
“OrigamiStar-BlackPen” by Aldaron, a.k.a. Aldaron. – From JillsArt, posted with permission. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons.