MinION (via Oxford Nanopore Technologies)
In the fast advancing technological world in which we live, it is only a matter of time before we can all readily have access to our human genome sequence. A firm in UK has built a small device that will bring us one step closer to that possibility. A surge in medical innovation may soon follow.
Oxford Nanopore Technologies has recently constructed a device that can sequence simple genomes through the USB port on your own computer. They call it the MinION, and it can sequence a genome in 2 hours. Within that time frame, it can sequence 10,000 base-pair long DNA strands."We just read the entire thing in one go," said chief technology officer Clive Brown.
The device is allowed to accomplish the enormous task of sequencing by nanopores, small organic molecules with a extremely small hole at their centers, only 10 nanometers wide. The nanopores are then placed into synthetic polymer membranes with exceedingly high electrical resistance. If a potential is applied across the membranes, it causes a current to flow through the small holes at the center of each nanopore.
When sequencing, DNA is added to a solution containing enzymes that are attracted to the ends of the DNA strands. The enzymes then attach to the ends of the nanopores, which act as a ratcheting device, feeding a strand through one base pair at a time. Specific electrical characteristics of each of the four bases of the DNA cause a distortion in the current flow while passing through the nanopore. MinION is able to distinguish each of the four different disruptions in the current and record the sequence of DNA accordingly. The sensing components are integrated onto a small chip with approximately 512 nanopores, creating the potential to read up to 10,000 bases per second.
While other techniques currently exist to screen DNA, the MinION is superior in two unique ways. The device does not need to break apart individual strands in order to sequence them and can continuously sequence strands up to 10,000 bases. In addition, DNA does not need to be amplified to be accounted for. The MinION is expected to be out at the end of this year and will cost a customer around $900.