PATENT WATCH | Photolithography Advances


Affymetrix, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based manufacturer of GeneChip® microarrays, has developed a new device to create microarrays, according to a recently awarded patent.1 The new technique replaces physical photolithographic masks with computer-generated ones, and will, according to the application, "significantly improve the cost, quality, and efficiency of polymer array synthesis."

GeneChip arrays typically consist of hundreds of thousands of 25-base-long oligonucleotide probes. These probes are synthesized on-chip, in parallel, using a process that employs photoreactive nucleotide building blocks. When exposed to light, these precursors become "deprotected," meaning they are available for coupling to the next nucleotide in the chain. Affymetrix ( employs photomasks--small wafers riddled with holes-- to selectively illuminate, and thereby deprotect, different regions of the array that are to react with the next added nucleotide. In this way, each probe can be synthesized with a unique sequence.


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