Medical treatment is increasingly into genetics. Your medicines are customised for your genetic composition. DNA extraction has become important for studying the genetic causes of diseases; it is also needed for forensic science, genome sequencing, and detecting pathogens such as bacteria and viruses.

DNA — a very large molecule of phosphates, sugars and nucleic bases — is predominantly found in the nucleus of every body cell (human, plant, animal and microbe), but also present in mitochondria (a cell organ) and in the bloodstream (called cell-free DNA).

Extraction of DNA for study has been done for ages. But today, the quest is for newer DNA extraction technologies that are easier, more precise, and cheaper.

Chennai-based start-up MagGenome has come up with a new technology that makes DNA extraction ridiculously easy. The method, which can be equally used to extract RNA and proteins, is simple: make iron nanoparticles, get them to attach themselves to DNA, and apply a magnetic field. When the iron nanoparticles get pulled by the magnetic field, along come the DNA. Get rid of the nanoparticles and you have the DNA.

The science behind the technology essentially revolves around getting the nanoparticles to attach to the DNA.

Dr CN Ramchand, CEO, MagGenome Technologies, told  Quantum that scientists have, in recent years, developed a range of nucleic acid extraction systems, but they are based on magnetic nanoparticles that are coated with chemicals like ethylene glycol and citrates. Coating nanoparticles is expensive and time-consuming; using uncoated nanoparticles is also more effective because, with a high surface-to-volume ratio, they bind better with DNA/RNA/proteins. A few companies such as Thermo Fisher Scientific, QIAGEN, Beckman Coulter, and Omega Bio-tek use coated nanoparticles, but Ramchand says MagGenome is the only one that uses uncoated nanoparticles.

How it works

First the cell wall (membrane) is broken (a process called ‘lysis’) by special detergents; the contents of the cell spill out. All the proteins and other cellular matter are removed through enzymatic treatment — various enzymes combine with different cell organelles and are washed away. Once these ‘contaminants’ are removed, a unique formulation of DNA condensing agents, salts and magnetic nanoparticles are added. The nanoparticles attach themselves to the DNA, which can be magnetically separated.

MagGenome Technologies sells DNA/RNA/protein extraction kits. (An associate company provides DNA extraction service.) The technology was incubated in SciGenom Labs, Kochi; the company was incorporated in 2018 and received $3 million funding from Emerge Ventures, Singapore. Ramchand says it has been profitable since 2021. He says that with new diagnostic tools like liquid biopsy for cancer and non-invasive prenatal testing using new-generation sequencing becoming popular, “we see good prospects for our business”.

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