Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The USB DNA Sequencer

The USB DNA Sequencer 

On the 17th of February 2012, Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd opened the door to the future of genetics by announcing the development of a new DNA Strand Sequencing technique. Two devices that can perform this technique have been created: the GridION and the MinION. The GridION is the larger of the two and can produce “tens of GB of sequence data per 24 hour period.” (Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd 2012) However most excitement has been caused by the MinION, which is a smaller disposable version that can be attached to a computer like a USB to operate. The MinION is expected to allow worldwide use of a technique that until now has been very restricted. (Boyle 2012)

An ion current flowing through a nanopore. Molecules distort the current which can be detected and analysed. (Oxford Nanopore 2012)

These two devices contain a nanopore within an organic membrane. A nanopore is a small hole that is only a few nanometres in length. This hole is like a tunnel through the membrane. An ion current flows through this hole which is disrupted when a molecule passes through the same hole. Each molecule disrupts the current in a specific way which can be detected and analysed. This analysis allows the molecule to be identified. (Dodson 2012) The same process can be performed on DNA by allowing a single DNA strand to pass though the nanopore. The strand moves through one base at a time and each base disrupts the current in a certain way, allowing the sequencer to determine the order of the DNA bases on the strand. Using this process, the entire human genome can eventually be mapped out. (Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd 2012)

The MinION operates on and gains power from a computer like a USB. (Oxford Nanopore 2012)
It’s hoped that the way DNA is sequenced will be transformed by the speed that these devices perform at and how widespread they can become. Advanced laboratories are usually required to perform these techniques; (Piui 2012) however the MinION is very portable and only requires a computer to operate it. The systems will be able to analyse blood, plasma and serum which allows tests to be performed in less time and the MinION has the ability to analyse and “sequence 150 million base pairs in six hours.” (Boyle 2012) But further along the track, the GridION should be able to sequence an entire human genome in 15 minutes. It’s also hoped that following modification, these devices will be more accurate than systems that are currently used. The biggest factor in the MinION’s accessibility is its low price of 900 US Dollars. (Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd 2012) The price and accuracy of this new device is much more appealing than current systems which usually cost tens of thousands of dollars. (Dodson 2012) This allows for the possibility of genetic diseases to be more widely and thoroughly investigated, producing more effective treatment and prevention.

The GridION and MinION DNA Sequencers that are expected to be released within six to nine months are hoped to transform the world of genetics. Whole genomes can be sequenced in a much shorter period at an affordable price, widening the range of potential users that usually only consists of researchers working in advanced laboratories. Oxford Nanopore widens this range to include students researching in university laboratories and doctors testing patients by their bedside. This technology is expected to pave the way for better sequencing and further advances in genetics.

Reference List
Boyle, R 2012, DNA Sequencer Plugs Right Into Your USB Port, Analyses Your Genome, viewed 17 March 2012, <http://www.popsci.com.au/technology/dna-sequencer-plugs-right-into-your-usb-port-analyses-your-genome>
Dodson, B 2012, MinION - $900 usb-powered DNA sequencer on sale this year, viewed 18 March 2012, <http://www.gizmag.com/minion-disposable-dna-sequencer/21513/>
Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd 2012, Oxford Nanopore introduces DNA 'strand sequencing' on the high-throughput GridION platform and presents MinION, a sequencer the size of a USB memory stick, viewed 17 March 2012, <http://www.nanoporetech.com/news/press-releases/view/39>
Piui, T 2012, USB-powered DNA sequencer puts genetic analysis out of the lab to your laptop, viewed 17 March 2012, <http://www.zmescience.com/medicine/genetic/oxford-nanopore-minion-usb-dna-sequencing-3219443/>

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