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

VR is as good as psychedelics at helping people reach transcendence

On key metrics, a VR experience elicited a response indistinguishable from subjects who took medium doses of LSD or magic mushrooms.

This nanoparticle could be the key to a universal covid vaccine

Ending the covid pandemic might well require a vaccine that protects against any new strains. Researchers may have found a strategy that will work.

How do strong muscles keep your brain healthy?

There’s a robust molecular language being spoken between your muscles and your brain.

Stay connected

Illustration 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.