Taking DNA sequencing into the field

DEVICES for analysing DNA used to be big, clunky and not very good. Hundreds were required for the initial sequencing of the human genome, a project that started in the late 1990s and took over a decade to complete at a cost of at least $500m. Since then, sequencing a human genome has become a routine process; prices have fallen to below $1,000. Although the machines that do the job have got better and more compact, they still cost several hundred thousand dollars. Various groups are trying to make them smaller and cheaper.

The first device small enough to put in your pocket is already on the market. It comes from Oxford Nanopore, a maker of DNA-sequencing equipment based in the eponymous English city. It is about the size of a chunky mobile phone. Although the machine is swathed in patents, other miniature devices are bound to follow in time.

The MinION, as the device is called, is first plugged into a laptop. It works by sucking strands of DNA through a “flow…Continue reading

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