Genomics: Gene Detective

The clever device Patrick Brown developed to screen a lot of DNA at once has turned out to be one of biology's most powerful tools

As difficult as it was to sequence the 3.1 billion chemical "letters" that make up human DNA, the harder task may be to figure out what they mean. Trying to determine what's going on in a particular cell--which contains the entire complement of 30,000 or so genes but uses only a small fraction of them--is like watching a full-length movie a few pixels at a time.

That approach didn't make sense to Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown. Convinced that tissues and cells could be studied as collective systems rather than as individual components, he devised a method to mechanically print more than...

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