A little Canadian company has done for DNA collection what Google did for Web searches: made it ridiculously simple and efficient. Ottawa-based DNA Genotek has developed a device that allows you to collect and store a sample of DNA by just spitting into a small plastic vial. Closing the lid on the gadget, called Oragene, releases a chemical that stabilizes the saliva, allowing it to be easily shipped and stored indefinitely. It's a huge advantage over getting a blood sample (inefficient) or swabbing the inside of the mouth (less stable).
DNA Genotek's main customers are medical researchers, Big Pharma companies developing drugs that can be tailored to individuals, and researchers involved in large genetic studies. Chaim Birnboim, a research scientist and med-school professor who developed Oragene, knew there was demand for a simple, noninvasive DNA-collection method, "and I thought, I can do that." The trick was discovering that saliva was a rich source of DNA that could be easily stabilized. The product could have important implications for law enforcement, forensic sciences and the military. Individuals may even want an Oragene kit to preserve a bit of a loved one--or themselves--if they fear that their remains may later need to be identified. On a more uplifting note, an Ottawa company, DNA 11, uses the kits to collect DNA that is then photographed and turned into personalized bio-art portraits.