Skip to Content

How the Heliscope Sequences DNA

Helicos Biosciences’ novel machine could speed up sequencing and unearth new disease-linked genetic variations.
June 23, 2008
Each “flow cell” has 25 channels, each capable of holding 16 million strands of DNA for sequencing. A coating on the surface of the cell allows it to be washed clean between reactions.
To start the sequencing process, a scientist uses a multitip pipette to inject DNA samples into the flow cell.
The flow cell is then loaded into the HeliScope, which contains a complex optical system and four digital cameras. A granite slab, seen as a horizontal stripe across the top of the photo, prevents the instrument from vibrating.
DNA bases–A, C, T, and G–and DNA polymerase, the enzyme that catalyzes the sequencing reaction, are fed to the flow cell through a complex fluidics system at precisely timed intervals.
A low-power laser illuminates the sequencing reactions, which are recorded by the digital cameras.
The data recorded by the cameras is transferred to an accompanying processing center, which converts the images into strings of DNA letters. A specialized algorithm assembles the overlapping fragments into a longer sequence of DNA.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other
conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other

Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love

Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.

computation concept
computation concept

How AI is reinventing what computers are

Three key ways artificial intelligence is changing what it means to compute.

still from Embodied Intelligence video
still from Embodied Intelligence video

These weird virtual creatures evolve their bodies to solve problems

They show how intelligence and body plans are closely linked—and could unlock AI for robots.

We reviewed three at-home covid tests. The results were mixed.

Over-the-counter coronavirus tests are finally available in the US. Some are more accurate and easier to use than others.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.