10 emerging tech

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With new technologies constantly being invented in universities and companies across the globe, guessing which ones
will transform computing, medicine, communication, and our energy infrastructure is always a challenge. Nonetheless,
Technology Review’s editors are willing to bet that the 10 emerging technologies highlighted in this special package will
affect our lives and work in revolutionary ways—whether next year or next decade. For each, we’ve identified a
researcher whose ideas and efforts both epitomize and reinvent his or her field.The following snapshots of the innovators
and their work provide a glimpse of the future these evolving technologies may provide. PHOTOGRAPH BY DENNIS KLEIMAN

32   T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                        w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
In 10 years, everyone may have
universal-translation software
on their handheld or cell phone.

w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m   T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W M o n t h 2 0 0 3   33
                                             YUQING GAO                                               pioneered efforts in machine translation in the
                                                                                                      1980s. In addition, a practical system must adapt
                                            Universal Translation                                     to speech recognition errors, unusual word com-
                                             Yuqing Gao is bilingual—and so is her computer.          binations, and new situations—all automatically.
                                             At IBM’s Watson Research Center in Yorktown                   To address those challenges, Gao’s team at
                                             Heights, NY, the computer scientist, role-playing        IBM combined semantic analysis with statistical
                                             a doctor, speaks Mandarin Chinese into a personal        algorithms that enable computers to learn trans-
                                             digital assistant. In a few seconds, a pleasant          lation patterns by comparing streams of text
                                             female voice emanating from the device asks, in          with translations done by humans. As part of an
                                             English,“What are your symptoms?” Gao’s system,          initiative by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research
OTHER                                        designed to help doctors communicate with                Projects Agency, Gao’s team developed Chinese-
LEADERS                                      patients, can be extended to other languages and         English translation software for a laptop com-
in Universal Translation                     situations. The ultimate goal, she says, is to develop   puter and more recently adapted it to run on a
: BONNIE DORR                                “universal translation” software that gleans mean-       PDA. “You can talk about a lot of different
University of Maryland                       ing from phrases in one language and conveys it          things. The system handles daily conversational
(College Park, MD)                           in any other language, enabling people from dif-         needs,” says Gao. It has a vocabulary of a few
Computerized translation                     ferent cultures to communicate.                          thousand words and worked with 90 percent
of Web documents                                  Gao’s work is at the forefront of escalating        accuracy in test conversations about medical
: KEVIN KNIGHT                               efforts to use mathematical models and natural-          care and logistics.
: DANIEL MARCU                               language-processing techniques to make com-                   “The IBM system is impressive. I see them as
Language Weaver
(Marina del Rey, CA)
                                             puterized translation more accurate and efficient,       setting the bar for the whole program,” says Kristin
Statistical translation                      and more adaptable to new languages. Distinct            Precoda, director of the Speech Technology and
of text                                      from speech recognition and synthesis, the tech-         Research Laboratory at SRI International in Menlo
: LORI LEVIN                                 nology behind universal translation has matured          Park, CA. Within the same DARPA initiative,
: ALEX WAIBEL                                in recent years, driven in part by global business       Precoda’s group has created a more specialized
Carnegie Mellon                              and security needs. “Advances in automatic learn-        translation device: a one-way talking phrase book
University                                   ing, computing power, and available data for             developed in collaboration with Middletown, RI-
(Pittsburgh, PA)                             translation are greater than we’ve seen in the           based Marine Acoustics that has been used by U.S.
Text and speech
translation                                  history of computer science,” says Alex Waibel,          soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other coun-
                                             associate director of Carnegie Mellon University’s       tries to ask residents specific questions about
: KRISTIN PRECODA                            Language Technologies Institute, which supports          medical care and many other topics.
SRI International
(Menlo Park, CA)                             several parallel efforts in the field.                        While these prototypes look promising, mak-
Portable speech                                   Unlike commercial systems that translate            ing them practical will require more testing and
translators                                  Web documents word by word or work only in               programming. By late 2004, says Gao, the tech-
: ACE SARICH                                 specific contexts like travel planning, Gao’s soft-      nology will be “robust and ready” for deployment;
Marine Acoustics                             ware does what’s called semantic analysis: it            IBM is already in discussions with potential part-
(Middletown, RI)                             extracts the most likely meaning of text or              ners and customers. Eventually, universal trans-
Handheld phrase                              speech, stores it in terms of concepts like actions      lation could make business meetings, document
translators                                  and needs, and expresses the same idea in                research, and surveillance easier, while opening
: SEIICHI YAMAMOTO                           another language. For instance, the software             doors to international commerce and tourism. “In
Advanced Telecommuni-                        translates the statement “I’m not feeling well” by       10 years, everyone may have this on their hand-
cations Research Institute                   first deciding that the speaker is probably sick—        held or cell phone,” says Gao. At which point com-
International, Spoken
Language Translation                         not suffering from faulty nerve endings; it then         municating in a new language could be as easy as
Research Labs                                produces a sentence about the speaker’s health           plug and play. GREGORY T. HUANG
(Kyoto, Japan)                               in the target language. If enough semantic con-
Speech recognition                           cepts are stored in the computer, it becomes
and translation                              easier to hook up a new language to the network:
                                             instead of having to program separate Chinese-           RON WEISS
                                             Arabic and English-Arabic translators, for
                                             instance, you need only map Arabic to the exist-         Synthetic Biology
                                             ing conceptual representations.                          Perched on the gently sloping hills of Princeton
                                                  But it’s easier said than done. Spoken-word         University’s brick and ivy campus, Ron Weiss’s
                                             translation requires converting speech to text,          biology laboratory is stocked with the usual array
                                             making sense of that text, and then using speech         of microscopes, pipettes, and petri dishes. Less typi-
                                             synthesis technology to output the translation.          cal is its location: crammed into the Engineering
                                             “Building a system for understanding text is             Quadrangle, it stands out among the electrical
                                             more complex than building an atomic bomb,”              and mechanical engineering labs. Yet it’s an appro-
                                             says Sergei Nirenburg, a computer scientist at the       priate spot for Weiss. A computer engineer by
                                             University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who            training, he discovered the allure of biology dur-

34    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                                                      w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
                     Synthetic biology will enable an array
                     of applications in the future that we
                     cannot even imagine today. —RON WEISS

                 ing graduate school—when he began program-             tion, as a set of Legos,” says Tom Knight, an MIT
                 ming cells instead of computers. In fact, he began     computer-engineer-cum-biologist, and the gradu-
                 to program cells as if they were computers.            ate advisor who turned Weiss on to the idea.
                      Weiss is one of just a handful of researchers          Researchers trying to control cells’ behavior
                 delving into the inchoate field of synthetic           have moved beyond proof of concept, creating
                 biology, assiduously assembling genes into net-        different genetic “circuits”—specially devised
                 works designed to direct cells to perform almost       sets of interacting genes. James J. Collins, a bio-
                 any task their programmers conceive. Combined          medical engineer at Boston University, created a
                 with simple bacteria, these networks could             “toggle switch” that allows chosen functions
                 advance biosensing, allowing inspectors to pin-        within cells to be turned off and on at will.
                 point land mines or biological weapons; add            Michael Elowitz, a professor of biology and
                 human cells, and researchers might build entire        physics at Caltech, and Stanislas Leibler of Rocke-
                 organs for transplantation. “We want to create a       feller University have created another circuit that

                 set of biological components, DNA cassettes that       causes a cell to switch between glowing and non-
                 are as easy to snap together, and as likely to func-   glowing phases as levels of a particular protein

                 w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m                                                      T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4   35
                                             change—acting as a sort of organic oscillator             PEIDONG YANG
                                             and opening the door to using biological mole-
                                             cules for computing. Together with Caltech                Nanowires
                                             chemical engineer Frances Arnold, Weiss himself           Few emerging technologies have offered as much
                                             has used “directed evolution” to fine-tune the cir-       promise as nanotechnology, touted as the means
                                             cuits he creates, inserting a gene network into a         of keeping the decades-long electronics shrink-
                                             cell, selectively promoting the growth of the cells       fest in full sprint and transfiguring disciplines
                                             that best perform a selected task, and repeating          from power production to medical diagnostics.
                                             the process until he gets exactly what he wants.          Companies from Samsung Electronics to Wilson
                                             “Ron is utilizing the power of evolution to design        Sporting Goods have invested in nanotech, and
                                             networks in ways so that they perform exactly the         nearly every major university boasts a nano-
OTHER                                        way you want them to,” says Collins.                      technology initiative. Red hot, even within this
LEADERS                                           Weiss has also designed sophisticated cellu-         R&D frenzy, are the researchers learning to
in Synthetic Biology                         lar systems without directed evolution. In one            make the nanoscale wires that could be key ele-
: JAMES J. COLLINS                           project, sponsored by the U.S. Defense Advanced           ments in many working nanodevices.
Boston University                            Research Projects Agency, he has inserted a genetic            “This effort is critical for the success of the
(Boston, MA)                                 circuit into normally nonsocial bacteria that             whole [enterprise of] nanoscale science and tech-
Computer modeling                            enables them to communicate with each other by            nology,” says nanowire pioneer Peidong Yang of
and creation of synthetic                    recognizing selected environmental cues and               the University of California, Berkeley. Yang has
gene networks
                                             emitting a signal in response. He’s working on            made exceptional progress in fine-tuning the
: MICHAEL ELOWITZ                            another group of genes he calls an “algorithm,”           properties of nanowires. Compared to other nano-
Caltech                                      which allows the bacteria to figure out how far           structures,“nanowires will be much more versatile,
(Pasadena, CA)
Biological computing
                                             away a stimulus is and vary their reactions accord-       because we can achieve so many different proper-
                                             ingly—in essence, creating a living sensor for            ties just by varying the composition,” says Charles
: JAY KEASLING                               almost anything. Spread bacteria engineered to            Lieber, a Harvard University chemist who has also
University of California,
                                             respond to, say, dynamite, across a minefield,            been propelling nanowire development.
(Berkeley, CA)                               and if they’re particularly close to a mine, they              As their name implies, nanowires are long,
Engineering microbial                        fluoresce green. If they’re a little farther away, they   thin, and tiny—perhaps one-ten-thousandth the
metabolisms for                              fluoresce red, creating a bull’s-eye that pinpoints       width of a human hair. Researchers can now
bioremediation                               the mine’s location.                                      manipulate the wires’ diameters (from five to sev-
: TOM KNIGHT                                      The most ambitious project Weiss has                 eral hundred nanometers) and lengths (up to
: DREW ENDY                                  planned—though the furthest from realization—             hundreds of micrometers). Wires have been made
MIT                                          is to program adult stem cells. In the presence of        out of such materials as the ubiquitous semicon-
(Cambridge, MA)
Standardizing                                the correct triggers, these unspecialized cells,          ductor silicon, chemically sensitive tin oxide, and
interchangeable,                             found in many tissues in the body, will develop           light-emitting semiconductors like gallium nitride.
interlocking microbial                       into specific types of mature cells. The idea, says            This structural and compositional control
circuits                                     Weiss, is that by prompting some cells to differ-         means “we essentially can make anything we want
: J. CRAIG VENTER                            entiate into bone, others into muscle, cartilage,         to,” says Lieber, who cofounded Palo Alto, CA-
Institute for Biological                     and so on, researchers could direct cells to, say,        based Nanosys (to which Yang also consults) to
Energy Alternatives                          patch up a damaged heart, or create a synthetic           develop nanowire-based devices. The wires can be
(Rockville, MD)                              knee that functions better than any artificial            fashioned into lasers, transistors, memory arrays,
Engineering micro-
organisms to produce                         replacement. But because mammalian cells are so           perhaps even chemical-sensing structures akin
hydrogen for fuel cells                      complex, this is a much more daunting task than           to a bloodhound’s famously sensitive sniffer, notes
                                             programming bacteria. So far, Weiss and his col-          James Ellenbogen, head of the McLean, VA-based
                                             laborators have managed to program adult stem             nanosystems group at federally funded Mitre.
                                             cells from mice to fluoresce in different colors,         Many of these applications require organizing
                                             depending on what molecule is added to their              nanowires into larger structures, a technical chal-
                                             petri dish. Though these baby steps emphasize             lenge that Ellenbogen credits Yang with pushing
                                             how much is left to do, they represent impressive         forward more than anyone.
                                             strides in the manipulation of biology. “Because               To make the wires, Yang and his colleagues
                                             of the power and flexibility that it offers, synthetic    use a special chamber, inside which they melt a
                                             biology will provide many benefits to existing            film of gold or another metal, forming nanometer-
                                             fields,” Weiss says. “But more importantly, it will       scale droplets. A chemical vapor, such as silicon-
                                             also enable an array of applications in the future        bearing silane, is emitted over the droplets, and
                                             that we cannot even imagine today.” As the syn-           its molecules decompose. In short order, those
                                             ergy between engineers and biologists grows, so           molecules supersaturate the molten nanodroplets
                                                                                                                                                                                DEBRA MCCLINTON

                                             do fantastic possibilities for personalized medi-         and form a nanocrystal. As more vapor decom-
                                             cine, sensing and control, defense—almost any             poses onto the metal droplet, the crystal grows
                                             field conceivable. LAUREN GRAVITZ                         upward like a tree.

38    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                                                      w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
Developing nanowires is critical for the
success of the whole enterprise of nanoscale
science and technology. —PEIDONG YANG
                                                  Doing this simultaneously on millions of           and making predictions based on inevitably incom-
                                             metallic drops—perhaps arranged in specific             plete knowledge of the real world. Such methods
                                             patterns—allows scientists to organize massive          promise to advance the fields of foreign-language
                                             numbers of nanowires. Yang has already grown            translation, microchip manufacturing, and drug
                                             forests of gallium nitride and zinc oxide nano-         discovery, among others, sparking a surge of inter-
                                             wires that emit ultraviolet light, a trait that could   est from Intel, Microsoft, Google, and other lead-
OTHER                                        prove useful for “lab on a chip” devices that           ing companies and universities.
LEADERS                                      quickly and cheaply analyze medical, environ-                How does an idea conceived by an 18th-
in Nanowires
                                             mental, and other samples.                              century minister (Thomas Bayes) help modern
: JAMES ELLENBOGEN                                By introducing different vapors during the         computer science? Unlike older approaches to
                                             growth process, Yang has also been able to vary         machine reasoning, in which each causal con-
(McLean, VA)
Nanosystems for                              the wires’ composition, creating complex nano-          nection (“rain makes grass wet”) had to be ex-
computing and sensing                        wires “striped” with alternating segments of sili-      plicitly taught, programs based on probabilistic
                                             con and the semiconductor silicon germanium.            approaches like Bayesian math can take a large
Harvard University                           The wires conduct heat poorly but electrons             body of data (“it’s raining,”“the grass is wet”) and
(Cambridge, MA)                              well—a combination suited for thermoelectric            deduce likely relationships, or “dependencies,” on
and Nanosys                                  devices that convert heat gradients into electrical     their own. That’s crucial because many decisions
(Palo Alto, CA)                              currents. “An early application might be cooling        programmers would like to automate—say, per-
Nanowires for computing
                                             computer chips,” Yang predicts. Such devices            sonalizing search engine results according to a
and medical sensors
                                             might eventually be developed into highly effi-         user’s past queries—can’t be planned in advance;
: LARS SAMUELSON                             cient power sources that generate electricity from      they require machines to weigh unforeseen com-
Lund University and
                                             cars’ waste heat or the sun’s heat.                     binations of evidence and make their best guesses.
QuMat Technologies
(Lund, Sweden)                                    Difficult tasks remain, such as making elec-       Says Intel research director David Tennenhouse,
Nanowire devices for                         trical connections between the minuscule wires          “These techniques are going to impact everything
lighting, displays, and                      and the other components of any system. Still,          we do with computers—from user interfaces to
electronics                                  Yang estimates there are now at least 100 research      sensor data processing to data mining.”
: ZHONG L.WANG                               groups worldwide devoting significant time to                Koller unleashed her own Bayesian algo-
Georgia Institute                            overcoming such obstacles, and commercial               rithms on the problem of gene regulation—a
of Technology                                development efforts have already begun. Last            good fit, since the rate at which each gene in a cell
(Atlanta, GA)
                                             year, Intel, which is working with Lieber, revealed     is translated into its corresponding protein
Nanostructures to
detect molecules and                         that nanowires are part of its long-term chip           depends on signals from a myriad of proteins
viruses inside a cell                        planning. Smaller firms such as Nanosys and             encoded by other genes. New biomedical tech-
                                             QuMat Technologies, a startup now renting space         nologies are providing so much data that
                                             at Lund University in Sweden, are betting that          researchers are, paradoxically, having trouble
                                             nanowires will be essential components of the           untangling all these interactions, which is slowing
                                             products they hope to sell one day, from sensors        the search for new drugs to fight diseases from
                                             for drug discovery and medical diagnosis to flat-       cancer to diabetes. Koller’s program combs
                                             panel displays and superefficient lighting. When        through data on thousands of genes, testing the
                                             this catalogue of nanowired gizmos finally hits the     probability that changes in the activity of certain
                                             market, Yang and his colleagues will have made no       genes can be explained by changes in the activity
                                             small contribution. IVAN AMATO                          of others. The program not only independently
                                                                                                     detected well-known interactions identified
                                                                                                     through years of research but also uncovered the
                                                                                                     functions of several previously mysterious regu-
                                             DAPHNE KOLLER                                           lators. “People are limited in their ability to inte-
                                                                                                     grate many different pieces of evidence,” says
                                            Bayesian Machine                                         Koller. “Computers have no such limitation.”
                                            Learning                                                      Of course, Koller isn’t alone in the struggle to
                                             When a computer scientist publishes genetics            cope with uncertainty. But according to David
                                             papers, you might think it would raise colleagues’      Heckerman, manager of the Machine Learning
                                             eyebrows. But Daphne Koller’s research using a          and Applied Statistics Group at Microsoft Re-
                                             once obscure branch of probability theory called        search, she has uniquely extended the visual
                                             Bayesian statistics is generating more excitement       models used by Bayesian programmers—typi-
                                             than skepticism. The Stanford University associate      cally, graphs showing objects, their properties, and
                                             professor is creating programs that, while tackling     the relationships among them—so that they can
                                             questions such as how genes function, are also illu-    represent more complex webs of dependencies.
                                             minating deeper truths about the long-standing          Predicting an AIDS patient’s response to a medi-
                                             computer science conundrum of uncertainty—              cation, for example, depends on knowing how
                                             learning patterns, finding causal relationships,        prior patients responded—but also on the par-

40    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                                                     w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
                                                                                                                                                     in Bayesian
                                                                                                                                                     Machine Learning
                                                                                                                                                     : GARY BRADSKI
                                                                                                                                                     Intel Architecture
                                                                                                                                                     Research Laboratory
                                                                                                                                                     (Santa Clara, CA)
                                                                                                                                                     Manufacturing tools;
                                                                                                                                                     open-source Bayesian
                                                                                                                                                     : DAVID HECKERMAN
                                                                                                                                                     : ERIC HORVITZ
                                                                                                                                                     Microsoft Research
                                                                                                                                                     (Redmond, WA)
                                                                                                                                                     Spam filtering; advanced
                                                                                                                                                     data-mining tools;
                                                                                                                                                     intelligent office
                                                                                                                                                     : MICHAEL I. JORDAN
                                                                                                                                                     University of California,
                                                                                                                                                     (Berkeley, CA)
                  People are limited in their ability to integrate many different pieces of evidence. Computers are not. —DAPHNE KOLLER
                                                                                                                                                     Graphical models;
                                                                                                                                                     information retrieval
                  ticular strains of the virus the patients carried,             to find and exploit patterns in the vast amount of
                  which strains are drug resistant, and a multitude              interconnected data on the Web.                                     : SEBASTIAN THRUN
                                                                                                                                                     Stanford University
                  of other factors. Older Bayesian programs                           Programs that employ Bayesian techniques                       (Palo Alto, CA)
                  couldn’t handle such multilayered relationships,               are already hitting the market: Microsoft Out-                      Robot navigation
                  but Koller found ways to “represent the added                  look 2003, for instance, includes Bayesian office                   and mapping
                  structure and reason with it and learn from it,”               assistants. English firm Agena has created
                  says Heckerman.                                                Bayesian software that recommends TV shows to
                      Researchers are adapting such methods for an               satellite and cable subscribers based on their
                  armada of practical applications. Among them:                  viewing habits; Agena hopes to deploy the tech-
                  robots that can autonomously map hazardous,                    nology internationally. “These things sound far
                  abandoned mines and programs under develop-                    out,” says Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz,
                  ment at Intel that interpret test data on the                  who, with Heckerman, is a leading proponent of

                  quality of semiconductor wafers. In addition,                  probabilistic methods. “But we are creating
                  several graduates of Koller’s lab have joined                  usable tools now that you’ll see in the next wave
                  Google, where they are using Bayesian methods                  of software.” WADE ROUSH

                   w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m                                                                   T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4   41
  T-rays may fill important gaps                                                                    so by measuring how long each t-ray took to pass
  between x-ray, MRI, and the eye                                                                   through an extracted tooth and reach a detector,
  of the physician. —DON ARNONE                                                                     the researchers were able to assemble a 3-D pic-
                                                                                                    ture of the tooth.
                                                                                                         Toshiba soon decided that the technique,
                                                                                                    while promising, didn’t really fit its business. So in
                                                                                                    2001 the company spun off a new venture, Tera-
                                                                                                    View, with Arnone as CEO. Last August, TeraView
                                                                                                    started selling evaluation versions of a t-ray scan-
                                                                                                    ner, with major production planned to begin in a
                                                                                                    year or two. The machine looks—and works—
                                                                                                    much like a photocopier. An object sits on the
                                                                                                    imaging window, the t-ray beam passes across it,
                                                                                                    a detector measures the transmitted rays, and a
                                                                                                    screen displays the image. A separate probe arm
                                                                                                    scans objects that won’t fit on the window.
                                                                                                         Xi-Cheng Zhang, director of the Center for
                                                                                                    Terahertz Research at Rensselaer Polytechnic
                                                                                                    Institute, warns that the technology is far from
                                                                                                    mature. However, he notes, “we cannot afford
                                                                                                    not to investigate it.” Indeed, several firms are
                                                                                                    already testing the TeraView scanner. Consumer
                                                                                                    electronics companies could use t-rays to check
                                                                                                    devices for manufacturing flaws. Food proces-
                                                                                                    sors could probe the water content of sealed
                                                                                                    packages to ensure freshness. In fact, any sealed
                                                                                                    container can be probed for quality-assurance
                                                                                                    purposes. “Every factory in the world that uses
                                                                                                    a plastic or cardboard box could use one of
OTHER                                        DON ARNONE                                             these things, in principle,” says Daniel Mittleman,
LEADERS                                                                                             a terahertz researcher at Rice University. But
in Terahertz Imaging                         T-Rays                                                 that’s just the beginning.
Systems                                      With the human eye responsive to only a narrow              Security seems another natural application.
: MARTYN                                     slice of the electromagnetic spectrum, people          Because different chemical structures absorb them
CHAMBERLAIN                                  have long sought ways to see beyond the limits of      differently, t-rays could be used to identify hidden
University of Leeds                          visible light. X-rays illuminate the ghostly shad-     materials. TeraView is in talks with both the U.K.
(Leeds, England)
                                             ows of bones, ultraviolet light makes certain          and U.S. governments to develop a scanner that
Remote sensing;
medical imaging                              chemicals shine, and near-infrared radiation pro-      could be used alongside metal detectors. “You
                                             vides night vision. Now researchers are working        can do things like look at razor blades in coat
: JÉRÔME FAIST                               to open a new part of the spectrum: terahertz          pockets or plastic explosives in shirt pockets,”
University of Neuchâtel
(Neuchâtel, Switzerland)                     radiation, or t-rays. Able to easily penetrate many    Arnone says. The company is building a library of
New laser sources                            common materials without the medical risks of          spectral fingerprints of different materials.
for t-ray production                         x-rays, t-rays promise to transform fields like             T-ray systems might also be useful for iden-
: QING HU                                    airport security and medical imaging, revealing        tifying skin cancers or, with further development,
MIT                                          not only the shape but also the composition of         breast cancers. They could show the shape of
(Cambridge, MA)                              hidden objects, from explosives to cancers.            tumors and help doctors excise diseased tissue
New laser sources                                 In the late 1990s, Don Arnone and his group       more accurately. “Because tumors tend to retain
for t-ray production
                                             at Toshiba’s research labs in Cambridge, England,      more water, they show up very brightly in tera-
: DANIEL MITTLEMAN                           were eyeing t-rays as an alternative to dental x-      hertz images,” Arnone says. “[T-rays] may fill
Rice University                              rays. The idea was that t-rays, operating in the       important gaps between x-ray, MRI, and the
(Houston, TX)
                                             deep-infrared region just before wavelengths           naked eye of the physician.”
New t-ray imaging
techniques                                   stretch into microwaves, would be able to spot              Other companies are getting into the act.
                                             decay without harmful ionizing radiation. In           Japanese camera maker Nikon has developed its
: XI-CHENG ZHANG                             tests, the researchers fired powerful but extremely    own t-ray scanner. Ann Arbor, MI, startup
Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute                                    short pulses of laser light at a semiconductor         Picometrix recently sold NASA a scanner to
(Troy, NY)                                   chip, producing terahertz radiation (so called         search for gaps in space shuttles’ foam insulation.
                                                                                                                                                                              JONATHAN WORTH

Imaging biomolecules                         because it has frequencies of trillions of waves per   And laser manufacturer Coherent in Santa Clara,
and semiconductors                           second). Passing through gaps or different thick-      CA, is one of several groups trying to develop
                                             nesses of material changes the rays’ flight time,      cheaper, more compact laser sources that will

42    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                                                    w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
                                                                                                           Hari Balakrishnan is pursuing this dream,
                                                                                                     working to free important data from dependency
                                                                                                     on specific computers or systems. Music-sharing
                                                                                                     services such as KaZaA, which let people down-
                                                                                                     load and trade songs from Internet-connected
                                                                                                     PCs, are basic distributed-storage systems. But
                                                                                                     Balakrishnan, an MIT computer scientist, is part
                                                                                                     of a coalition of programmers who want to extend
                                                                                                     the concept to all types of data. The beauty of such
                                                                                                     a system, he says, is that it would provide all-
                                                                                                     purpose protection and convenience without being
                                                                                                     complicated to use. “You can now move [files]
                                                                                                     across machines,” he says.“You can replicate them,
                                                                                                     remove them, and the way in which [you] get
                                                                                                     them is unchanged.” With inability to access data
                                                                                                     sometimes costing companies millions in revenue
                                                                                                     per hour of downtime, according to Stamford, CT-
                                                                                                     based Meta Group, a distributed-storage system
                                                                                                     could dramatically enhance productivity.
                                                                                                           Balakrishnan’s work centers on “distributed
                                                                                                     hash tables,” an update on a venerable computer-
                                                                                                     science concept. Around since the 1950s, hash
                                                                                                     tables provide a quick way to organize data: a
                                                                                                     simple mathematical operation assigns each file
                                                                                                     its own row in a table; the row stores the file’s
                                                                                                     location. Such tables are now ubiquitous, form-
                                                                                                     ing an essential part of most software.
                                                                                                           In the distributed-storage scheme pursued by
                                                                                                     Balakrishnan and his colleagues, files are scat-
                                                                                                     tered around the Internet, as are the hash tables
                                                                    With distributed storage, you    listing their locations. Each table points to other
                                                                     can now move and replicate
                                                                   files across machines, and the    tables, so while the first hash table searched may
                                                                    way in which you get them is     not list the file you want, it will point to other
                                                                  unchanged. —HARI BALAKRISHNAN
                                                                                                     tables that will eventually—but still within milli-
                                                                                                     seconds—reveal the file’s location. The trick is to
OTHER                                        make t-ray systems easier to build. In the part of      devise efficient ways to route data through the
LEADERS                                      the spectrum between the domains of cell phones         network—and to keep the tables up to date. Get
in Distributed Storage                       and lasers, t-rays could shed light on mysteries        it right and distributed hash tables could turn the
: IAN CLARKE                                 hidden from even today’s most technologically           Internet into a series of automatically organized,
Freenet                                      enhanced eyes. NEIL SAVAGE                              easily searchable filing cabinets. Balakrishnan
(Open-source project)                                                                                says, “I view distributed hash tables as the com-
Anonymous content pub-                                                                               ing future” of networked storage.
lishing and distribution
                                                                                                           Balakrishnan’s work is part of IRIS, the Infra-
: JOHN KUBIATOWICZ                           HARI BALAKRISHNAN                                       structure for Resilient Internet Systems project, a
University of                                                                                        collaboration among researchers at MIT, the Uni-
California, Berkeley
(Berkeley, CA)
                                            Distributed Storage                                      versity of California, Berkeley, the International
Secure distributed                           Whether it’s organizing documents, spreadsheets,        Computer Science Institute in Berkeley, CA, New
storage over the Internet                    music, photos, and videos or maintaining regular        York University, and Rice University. The effort,
: TOM LEIGHTON                               backup files in case of theft or a crash, taking care   funded by the National Science Foundation, has
Akamai                                       of data is one of the biggest hassles facing any        no director (Balakrishnan always uses “we” and
(Cambridge, MA)                              computer user. Wouldn’t it be better to store data      “us” when describing the work). Its research
Internet content                             in the nooks and crannies of the Internet, a few        includes several distributed-storage projects,
distribution                                 keystrokes away from any computer, anywhere? A          including OceanStore, which seeks to prove the
: MICHAEL LYNCH                              budding technology known as distributed storage         basic concepts of distributed-storage networks (see
Autonomy                                     could do just that, transforming data storage for       “The Internet Reborn,” TR October 2003). Another
(Cambridge, England)                         individuals and companies by making digital files       MIT researcher, Frans Kaashoek, is developing a
Distributed corporate
databases                                    easier to maintain and access while eliminating the     prototype that automatically backs up data by rou-
                                                                                                                                                                               ASIA KEPKA

                                             threat of catastrophes that obliterate informa-         tinely taking file system “snapshots” and distrib-
                                             tion, from blackouts to hard-drive failures.            uting them around the Internet.

44    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                                                     w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
RNAi worked the first time we did the experiment. —THOMAS TUSCHL
                      It will be at least five years before the impact   with this,” says John Rossi, a molecular geneticist
                 of IRIS becomes clear. Balakrishnan says the            at the City of Hope National Medical Center in
                 group still has to figure out how to track file         Duarte, CA, who advises Australian RNAi startup
                 updates across multiple storage sites and whether       Benitec. “If you knock out gene expression, you
                 distributed hash tables should be built into the        could have big impacts on any disease, any infec-
                 Internet foundation or incorporated into indi-          tious problem.” Pharmaceutical companies are
                 vidual applications—as well as the answers to           already using RNAi to discover drug targets, by
                 basic security questions.                               simply blocking the activity of human genes,
                      But it’s the fundamental power of the tech-        one by one, to see what happens. If, for instance,
                 nology that excites many computer scientists.           a cancer cell dies when a particular gene is shut
                 “What’s striking about it is its huge variety of        down, researchers can hunt for drugs that target
                 applications,” says Sylvia Ratnasamy, a researcher      that gene and the proteins it encodes. Screening
                 at Intel’s laboratory at Berkeley who is exploring      the whole human genome this way “is not com-
                 ways that distributed storage might change the          plicated,” Tuschl points out.                                   OTHER
                 basic operation of the Internet. “Not very many              Now drug companies, along with biotech                     LEADERS
                                                                                                                                         in RNAi Therapy
                 technologies have that broad potential.”                startups and academic researchers, are seeking
                      Stay tuned. Turning the Internet into a filing     to use RNAi to treat disease directly. In fact,                 : REUVEN AGAMI
                 cabinet may be just step one. MICHAEL FITZGERALD        Tuschl cofounded one such startup, Alnylam                      Netherlands Cancer
                                                                         Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, MA (see “The
                                                                                                                                         (Amsterdam, the
                                                                         RNA Cure?” TR November 2003), which hopes to                    Netherlands)
                                                                         create RNAi drugs to treat cancer, AIDS, and                    Cancer
                 THOMAS TUSCHL                                           other diseases. For example, silencing a key
                                                                                                                                         : BEVERLY DAVIDSON
                                                                         gene in the HIV virus could stop it from caus-
                 RNAi Therapy                                            ing AIDS; knocking out the mutated gene that
                                                                                                                                         University of Iowa
                                                                                                                                         (Iowa City, IA)
                 From heart disease to hepatitis, cancer to AIDS,        causes Huntington’s could halt the progression                  Huntington’s disease
                 a host of modern ailments are triggered by our          of the disease; and turning off cancer genes                    : MICHAEL GRAHAM
                 own errant genes—or by those of invading organ-         could shrink tumors. “It’s going to be a very, very             Benitec
                 isms. So if a simple technique could be found for       powerful approach,” says Rossi.                                 (Queensland, Australia)
                 turning off specific genes at will, these diseases           The interference process works by preventing               Cancer, AIDS
                 could—in theory—be arrested or cured. Bio-              the gene from being translated into the protein it              : MARK KAY
                 chemist Thomas Tuschl may have found just such          encodes. (Proteins do most of the real work of                  Stanford University
                 an off switch in humans: RNA interference               biology.) Normally, a gene is transcribed into                  (Palo Alto, CA)
                                                                                                                                         Hepatitis B and C
                 (RNAi). While working at Germany’s Max Planck           an intermediate “messenger RNA” molecule,
                 Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Tuschl dis-        which is used as a template for assembling a                    : JUDY LIEBERMAN
                 covered that tiny double-stranded molecules of          protein. When a small interfering RNA molecule                  Harvard University
                                                                                                                                         (Cambridge, MA)
                 RNA designed to target a certain gene can, when         is introduced, it binds to the messenger, which
                                                                                                                                         AIDS, hepatitis, cancer
                 introduced into human cells, specifically block         cellular scissors then slice up and destroy.
                 that gene’s effects.                                         The biggest hurdle to transforming RNAi
                      Tuschl, now at Rockefeller University in New       from laboratory aide to medicine is delivering the
                 York City, first presented his findings at a meet-      RNA to a patient’s cells, which are harder to
                 ing in Tokyo in May 2001. His audience was              access than the individual cells used in lab experi-
                 filled with doubters who remembered other               ments. “That’s the major limitation right now,”
                 much hyped RNA techniques that ultimately               says Rossi, who nevertheless predicts that RNAi-
                 didn’t work very well. “They were very skeptical        based therapies could be on the market “within
                 and very critical,” recalls Tuschl. What the skep-      maybe three or four years.” Tuschl is more cau-
                 tics didn’t realize was that RNAi is much more          tious. He thinks the technique’s first applica-
                 potent and reliable than earlier methods. “It           tions—say, local delivery to the eye to treat a viral
                 worked the first time we did the experiment,”           infection—may indeed come that soon. But he
                 Tuschl recalls. Within a year, the doubts had           says it could take a decade or longer to develop a
                 vanished, and now the technique has universal           system that effectively delivers RNAi drugs to
                 acceptance—spawning research at every major             larger organs or the whole body.
                 drug company and university and likely putting               Tuschl’s lab is one of many now teasing out
                 Tuschl on the short list for a Nobel Prize.             the precise molecular mechanisms responsible
                      The implications of RNAi are breathtaking,         for RNA interference’s remarkable potency, hop-
                 because living organisms are largely defined by the     ing to help realize the payoffs of RNA drugs
                 exquisitely orchestrated turning on and off of          sooner rather than later. Presuming the tiny
                 genes. For example, a cut on a finger activates         RNA molecules can fulfill the promise of their

                 blood-clotting genes, and clot formation in turn        fast start, traditional molecular biology will be
                 shuts them down. “Just about anything is possible       turned on its head. KEN GARBER

                 w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m                                                         T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4   47
                                                                                                     action. While such “wide area” control systems
                                                                                                     remain largely theoretical, Rehtanz and his ABB
                                                                                                     colleagues have fashioned one that is ready for
                                                                                                     installation today. If their design works as adver-
                                                                                                     tised, it will make power outages 100 times less
                                                                                                     likely, protecting grids against everything from
                                                                                                     consumption-inducing heat waves to terrorism.
                                                                                                     “We can push more power through the grid while,
                                                                                                     at the same time, making the system more pre-
                                                                                                     dictable and more reliable,” says Rehtanz.
                                                                                                          Real-time control systems are a natural out-
                                                                                                     growth of a detection system pioneered in the
                                                                                                     1990s by the U.S.-government-operated Bonne-
                                                                                                     ville Power Administration, which controls grids
                                                                                                     in the Pacific Northwest. In this system, mea-
                                                                                                     surements from sensors hundreds to thousands
                                                                                                     of kilometers apart are coded with Global Posi-
                                                                                                     tioning System time stamps, enabling a central
                                                                                                     computer to synchronize data and provide an
                                                                                                     accurate snapshot of the entire grid 30 times
                                                                                                     per second—fast enough to glimpse the tiny
                                                                       We can push more power
                                                                   through the grid while, at the    power spikes, sags, and oscillations that mark the
                                                                  same time, making the system       first signs of instability. An earlier version of
                                                                     more predictable and more       Bonneville’s system helped explain the dynamics
                                                                      reliable. —CHRISTIAN REHTANZ
                                                                                                     of the 1996 blackout that crippled 11 western U.S.
                                                                                                     states, Alberta, British Columbia, and Baja Cali-
OTHER                                        CHRISTIAN REHTANZ                                       fornia; western utilities subsequently rejiggered
LEADERS                                                                                              their operations and have thus far avoided a
in Power Grid Control                        Power Grid Control                                      repeat. “I know the people back east sure wish
: JOHN HAUER                                 Power grids carry the seeds of their own destruc-       they had one right now,” says Carson Taylor,
Pacific Northwest                            tion: massive flows of electricity that can race        Bonneville’s principal engineer for transmission
National Laboratory                          out of control in just seconds, threatening to          and an architect of its wide-area system.
(Richland, WA)                               melt the very lines that carry them. Built in the            But Rehtanz is eager to take the next step,
Monitoring and                               days before quick-reacting microprocessors and          transforming these investigative tools into real-
analyzing U.S. power
flows                                        fiber optics, these networks were never designed        time controls that detect and squelch impending
                                             to detect and squelch systemwide disturbances.          blackouts. The technical challenge: designing a
: INNOCENT KAMWA                             Instead, each transmission line and power plant         system that can respond quickly enough. “You
Research Institute                           must fend for itself, shutting down when power          have half a minute, a minute, maybe two minutes
(Varennes, Québec)                           flows spike or sag. The shortcomings of this sys-       to take action,” says Rehtanz. That requires spar-
Securing power flows                         tem are all too familiar to the 50 million North        tan calculations that can crunch the synchronized
in Canada                                    Americans from Michigan to Ontario whose                sensor data, generate a model of the system to
: CARSON TAYLOR                              lights went out last August: as individual compo-       detect impending disaster, and select an appro-
Bonneville Power                             nents sense trouble and shut down, the remaining        priate response, such as turning on an extra
Administration                               power flows become even more disturbed, and             power plant. Control algorithms designed by
(Portland, OR)                               neighboring lines and plants fall like multimillion-    Rehtanz and his colleagues employ a highly sim-
Wide-area measurement
systems to stabilize                         dollar dominoes. Often-needless shutdowns result,       plified model of how a grid works, but one that
west-coast power lines                       costing billions, and the problem is only expected      they believe is nevertheless capable of instantly
                                             to get worse as expanding economies push more           identifying serious problems brewing—and on a
Iowa State University                        power onto grids.                                       standard desktop computer. ABB engineers are
(Ames, IA)                                       Christian Rehtanz thinks the time has come for      now studying how such algorithms could protect
Simulation of large-                         modern control technology to take back the grid.        a critical power corridor linking Switzerland and
scale power systems                          Rehtanz, group assistant vice president for power       Italy that failed last September, blacking out
                                             systems technology with Zürich, Switzerland-            most of Italy.
                                             based engineering giant ABB, is one of a growing             Many utilities are already implementing ele-
                                             number of researchers seeking to build new smarts       ments of real-time grid control—for example,
                                             into grid control rooms. These engineers are devel-     installing digital network controllers that can lit-
                                                                                                                                                                              WILLY SPILLER/GETTY

                                             oping hardware and software to track electric           erally push power from one line to another or
                                             flows across continent-wide grids several times a       suppress local spikes and sags (see “Power Grid-
                                             second, identify disturbances, and take immediate       lock,” TR July/August 2001). Tied into a wide-area

48    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                                                    w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
             control scheme, these network controllers could         existing network. Making sections of the fiber
             perform more intelligently. Still, it may be years      itself tunable could eliminate some of these
             before a utility takes the plunge and fully com-        “light-removing” components, Rogers says. “Any-
             mits to Rehtanz’s algorithms. It’s not just that        time you can avoid the need to remove light, there
             utilities are conservative about tinkering with         is a big cost advantage, reliability advantage, and            OTHER
             untried technologies; cash for transmission             increase in capacity.”                                         LEADERS
             upgrades is thin in today’s deregulated markets,             Other approaches to making fibers that                    in Advanced Optical Fibers
             where it’s unclear which market players—power           actively tune light—as opposed to serving as
                                                                                                                                    : YOEL FINK
             producers, transmission operators, or govern-           passive pipes—are also under development. But                  MIT
             ment regulators—should pay for reliability. What        with the telecom sector still in crash mode, leav-             (Cambridge, MA)
             is clear, however, is that the evolution toward real-   ing thousands of kilometers of underground                     Tunable polymer fibers
             time, wide-area sensing and control has begun.          fiber-optic cables unused, nobody expects a                    : TIMOFEI
             PETER FAIRLEY                                           rapid embrace of new optical communications                    KROUPENKINE
                                                                     technologies. “These kinds of things are needed                Lucent Technologies’
                                                                     when you get to the next-generation optical net-               Bell Labs
                                                                                                                                    (Murray Hill, NJ)
                                                                     works,” notes Dan Nolan, a physicist at Corning,
             JOHN ROGERS                                             a leading maker of optical fiber. “Right now you               optical tuning
                                                                     don’t really need them, because the next gen-
             Microfluidic Optical Fibers                             eration has been put off.”
                                                                                                                                    : STERLING MCBRIDE
                                                                                                                                    : DENNIS PRATHER
             The blazing-fast Internet access of the future—              Few, though, question that a push to a much               Sarnoff
             imagine downloading movies in seconds—might             faster Internet will eventually return. And when it            (Princeton, NJ);
             just depend on a little plumbing in the network.        does, Nolan says, devices like Rogers’s could come             University of Delaware
             Tiny droplets of fluid inside fiber-optic channels      into play. “I consider it very important research,”            (Newark, DE)
                                                                                                                                    Tunable lenses employing
             could improve the flow of data-carrying photons,        Nolan adds. Though the timing for commerciali-                 microfluidics
             speeding transmission and improving reliability.        zation is uncertain, the fibers have already moved
             Realizing this radical idea is the goal of University   beyond lab demonstrations; prototype devices                   : DAN NOLAN
                                                                                                                                    Corning Research
             of Illinois physicist John Rogers, whose prototype      are being tested at both Lucent and its spinoff                (Corning, NY)
             devices, called microfluidic optical fibers, may be     company OFS, a Norcross, GA-based optical-                     Optical pulses to tune
             the key to superfast delivery of everything from e-     fiber manufacturer.                                            signals inside fibers
             mail to Web-based computer programs, once
             “bandwidth” again becomes the mantra.
                  Rogers began exploring fluid-filled fibers
             more than two years ago as a researcher at Lucent
             Technologies’ Bell Labs. While the optical fibers
             that carry today’s phone and data transmissions
             consist of glass tubing that is flexible but solid,
             Rogers employs fibers bored through with micro-
             scopic channels, ranging from one to 300
             micrometers in diameter, depending on their
             use. While Rogers didn’t invent the fibers, he
             and his team showed that pumping tiny amounts
             of various fluids into them—and then controlling
             the expansion, contraction, and movement of
             these liquid “plugs”—causes the optical proper-
             ties of the fibers to change. Structures such as tiny
             heating coils printed directly on the fiber precisely
             control the size, shape, and position of the plugs.
             Modifying the plugs’ properties enables them to
             perform critical functions, such as correcting
             error-causing distortions and directing data flows
             more efficiently, thus boosting bandwidth far
             more cheaply than is possible today.
                  Today, these tune-up jobs are partly done by
             gadgets that convert light signals into electrons
             and then back into photons. This “removal of
             light” invariably causes distortions and losses.
             Rogers’s idea is to do these jobs more directly by                                         Anytime you can avoid the need to remove light,

             replacing today’s gadgets with sections of fluid-                                        there is a big cost advantage, reliability advantage,
                                                                                                                    and increase in capacity. —JOHN ROGERS
             filled optical fibers strategically placed in the

             w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m                                                        T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4   49
                                                   Still, the idea of adding a plumbing system to    analyze an individual’s whole genome. Since
                                             optical networks is jarring to some researchers.        most genetic differences between individuals
                                             “Success will ultimately depend on how well you         are attributable to single-letter variations called
                                             can put in the solution without disrupting the          single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, Cox
                                             ends of the fiber,” says Axel Scherer, a physicist at   believes that identifying genomewide patterns of
                                             Caltech. “The question is, how do you do that in        these variants that correspond to particular
                                             an easy and inexpensive way.” MIT physicist John        diagnoses or drug responses is the quickest,
                                             Joannopoulos holds similar reservations. But if the     most cost-effective way to make patients’ genetic
                                             fluidics system works, Joannopoulos says, “it gives     information useful. “I would like to know
                                             you extra control. Once you have that, then you         whether genetics is going to be practical while
OTHER                                        can make devices out of these fibers, not just use      I’m still alive,” says Cox.
LEADERS                                      them to transport something.”                                To help answer that question, in 2000 Cox left
in Personal Genome                                 The marriage of optics and tiny flows of          his position as codirector of the Stanford Uni-
Analysis                                     fluid also holds promise for other applications.        versity Genome Center to cofound Perlegen,
: RICHARD BEGLEY                             One possibility Rogers is investigating: a tool that    which has moved vigorously to bring SNP analy-
454 Life Sciences                            could use light to detect substances like disease-      sis to the clinic. The company has developed spe-
(Branford, CT)                               indicating proteins in blood, useful for medical        cial DNA wafers—small pieces of glass to which
Simple, high-speed,                          diagnosis or drug discovery. Even if it doesn’t         billions of very short DNA chains are attached—
cheap DNA sequencing
using microfluidic
                                             speed your downloads, Rogers’s plumbing might           that can be used to quickly and cheaply profile the
technology                                   still improve doctors’ checkups. DAVID TALBOT           millions of single-letter variants in a patient’s
                                                                                                     genome. Perlegen researchers first created a
Harvard University
                                                                                                     detailed map of 1.7 million of the most common
(Cambridge, MA)                                                                                      SNPs. Based on this map, they then designed a
Fast, accurate DNA                           DAVID COX                                               wafer that can detect which version of each one of
sequencing using                                                                                     these variants a specific patient has.
nanopores                                    Personal Genomics                                            Now, in partnership with major pharma-
: EUGENE CHAN                                Three billion. That’s the approximate number of         ceutical makers, the company is comparing
U.S. Genomics                                DNA “letters” in each person’s genome. The              genetic patterns found in hundreds of people
(Woburn, MA)                                 Human Genome Project managed a complete,                with, for example, diabetes to those of people
Low-cost, fast optical
DNA sequencing
                                             letter-by-letter sequence of a model human—a            without it. With Pfizer, Perlegen is examining
                                             boon for research. But examining the specific           genetic contributions to heart disease; for Eli
: GEORGE CHURCH                              genetic material of each patient in a doctor’s          Lilly, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and GlaxoSmithKline,
Harvard University
(Cambridge, MA)
                                             office by wading through those three billion let-       Perlegen researchers are hunting for SNP patterns
DNA sequencing using                         ters just isn’t practical. So to achieve the dream      that correlate to particularly adverse or favorable
polymerase-colony                            of personalized medicine—a future in which a            reactions to different drugs. The next step is to use
technology                                   simple blood test will determine the best course        this information to design a simple test that dis-
                                             of treatment based on a patient’s genes—many            cerns telltale SNP patterns. With such a test,
                                             scientists are taking a shortcut: focusing on only      doctors could screen patients to identify the best
                                             the differences between people’s genomes.               drug regimen for each.
                                                  David Cox, chief scientific officer of Perlegen         Some biologists argue that a truly accurate
                                             Sciences in Mountain View, CA, is turning that          picture of an individual’s genetics requires decod-
                                             strategy into a practical tool that will enable doc-    ing his or her entire genome, down to every last
                                             tors and drug researchers to quickly determine          DNA letter; but for now that is a daunting tech-
                                             whether a patient’s genetic makeup results in           nical challenge that remains prohibitively expen-
                                             greater vulnerability to a particular disease, or       sive. Cox counters that SNP analysis is the
                                             makes him or her a suitable candidate for a specific    quickest way to practically bring genetics and
                                             drug. Such tests could eventually revolutionize         medicine together, and many geneticists share his
                                             the treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s, asthma—           vision of ultimately analyzing SNPs right in a
                                             almost any disease imaginable. And Cox, working         doctor’s office. “I think this will become a rou-
                                             with some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical         tine thing in the future,” says George Weinstock,
                                             companies, has gotten an aggressive head start in       codirector of the Human Genome Sequencing
                                             making it happen.                                       Center at the Baylor College of Medicine in
                                                  Genetic tests can already tell who carries genes   Houston, TX. And, adds Weinstock, “Perlegen is
                                             for certain rare diseases like Huntington’s, and        one of the leaders in the field.”
                                             who will experience the toxic side effects of a few          Within a few years, genetic screening to pre-
                                             particular drugs, but each of these tests examines      dict a patient’s drug response may become com-
                                                                                                                                                                               DEBRA MCCLINTON

                                             only one or two genes. Most common diseases and         monplace. To make that happen, it will take tools
                                             drug reactions, however, involve several widely         like the ones Cox and his coworkers at Perlegen
                                             scattered genes, so researchers want to find ways to    are already beginning to employ. CORIE LOK ◊

50    T E C H N O LO G Y R E V I E W Fe b r u a r y 2 0 0 4                                                                     w w w. t e c h n o l o g y r e v i e w. co m
I would like to know whether genetics is going
   to be practical while I’m still alive. —DAVID COX

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