i3 - January/February 2018 - 36

DnaNudge - The Penn and Teller of DNA

W

hat if you could walk through a supermarket and choose groceries tailored to
your own genetic makeup? What if that genetic report came to you through
your mobile phone after the phone was placed on a "magic black box" that took
only 15 minutes to analyze your personal DNA? It's here. It's real. And even in Las
Vegas, Penn and Teller would have a hard time replicating the trick that DnaNudge
has managed.

Meet the magicians:
Regius Professor Chris Toumazou is an electrical
optimal ways for biology and technology to interact.
As the inventor of DNA sequencing on a microchip,
Toumazou's innovation is the core of all semiconductorbased DNA sequencing instruments today. Now, for his
new venture DnaNudge, he is pushing the boundaries
further, unlocking the possibilities of DNA detection on
a chip now using optics in addition to electronics. Cofounded with geneticist Dr Maria Karvela - who has
investigated the role that genetics plays in everything
from skin and aging to disease - DnaNudge is setting

How to translate biological
data into digital form?
The problem Toumazou and Karvela set out to solve
is how to put DNA on microchips. Placing strands of
DNA that react to various reagent "baits" on the chip
and then amplifying and turning those signals into

personal genetic dispositions, the ultimate goal being to
"nudge" shoppers to better, healthier behaviors.

the user's saliva, the DnaNudge system can quickly
analyze a shopper's genetics for things like their ability
to process sugars and fats, their ability to absorb
vitamins, and their predisposition to obesity.

magnate and founder investor Dr Thaksin Shinawatra,
who compares DnaNudge's cloud-based business model
to the global telecoms ecosystem - with similar potential
for mass consumer appeal and exponential growth.

Upon entering the store, shoppers will load a cheek
swab of saliva onto a disposable cartridge. The black
box/genotyping unit holds a "lab on a chip" that can
quickly determine basic DNA attributes (see sidebar).
Customers wait 15 minutes for their saliva to be
processed and then detect the DNA information
directly on their mobile phones. The DnaNudge
app turns the information into a bar code that will
help them shop for the right foods for their genetic
makeup. A clever twist called "DnaNudge Sharing"
allows couples or families to select the best products
for everyone in the group".
"The best news," says Toumazou, "is that, unlike other
commercial systems, the genetic results belong to
the shopper and no one else. The cartridge with the
saliva swab is destroyed, leaving the only data on the
consumer's phone. Consumers," he observes, "do not
relish the thought of sharing their DNA samples with
the world."

Explaining the "nudge theory" behind DnaNudge and
the new concept of "nudgeomics" the company is
pioneering, Toumazou says: "People need a gentle nudge
rather than rapid change. We collect more than 40 traits
in 15 minutes, from a single cheek swab. We can keep
tabs on everything from the way a person metabolizes
carbohydrates to saturated fats and sugar, let them own
that data, and then use it to help them make better
choices."
Toumazou jokingly calls himself an imposter - an
electrical engineer who spent most of his life developing
low-power microchips for mobile technology. He went
on to miniaturize what were once large externally worn
cochlear implants. But his fundamental problem with
just focusing on digital miniaturization is that biology

Moreover, there's no special equipment a consumer
needs to buy since the launch service has the



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of i3 - January/February 2018

Contents
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