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Phase Genomics CEO Ivan Liachko, also one of the inventors of the startup’s technology. (Phase Genomics Photo)

University of Washington spin-out Phase Genomics is searching for the genetic code inside the billions of microorganisms that surround us every day — and the company has received a $1.5 million grant to further that work.

Phase earned the funding by advancing to the second phase of the Small Business Innovation Research grant program, a program funded by the federal government to support resource-intensive research by small business and startups. The new cash, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, brings the company’s total funding to $2.6 million.

It will help Phase speed up its DNA sequencing technology, which the company says helps scientists more effectively understand the microscopic organisms that live all around us, collectively known as the microbiome. Despite its importance, we still know very little about it.

Phase Genomics CEO Ivan Liachko said in an emailed statement that the company’s customers include scientists in academia, industry and the government who are “exploring the new frontier of the microbiome.”

An illustration outlining how Phase Genomics’ technology sequences the DNA of microorganisms. (Phase Genomics Image)

That could mean anything from discovering and understanding tiny pathogens that infect patients in a clinic to the bacteria in soil that helps plants grow, Liachko said. Various industries are also interested in microbes that can digest plastic or create new materials altogether. Those tiny organisms are often difficult to grow and study in a lab.

“[The technology] solves the massive problem of understanding the genetics of organisms that cannot be cultured, which is the lion’s share of microbes living in the environment,” Liachko explained in a press release. “The technology generates numerous novel genomes per sample, providing valuable insights and enabling otherwise inaccessible discoveries that will save time, money and hopefully lives.”

Although the company has found success with its technology so far, the method is low-throughput, making it time-consuming and difficult to scale. The goal of the grant is to overcome those technological limitations and make the process high-throughput, thereby making it faster, cheaper and more accessible to a wider range of customers.

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