Rewriting Life

DNA Sequencing To Go

A British startup is commercializing a USB-sized sequencing machine.

Feb 17, 2012

Oxford Nanopore says it will begin selling by the end of the year a disposable DNA sequencer about the size of a USB memory stick that can be plugged directly into a laptop or desktop computer and used to perform a single-molecule sensing experiment. The device is expected to sell for $900, according to the company. 

Oxford Nanopore’s MinION device. Credit: Oxford Nanopore.

The company also unveiled a larger benchtop version of the technology. It says a configuration of 20 of the benchtop instruments could completely sequence a human genome in 15 minutes.

The technology is based on a radically different sequencing method that has been in the work for more than a decade at Oxford University, Harvard and the University of California, Santa Cruz. DNA strands are pulled through nanopores embedded in a polymer. As the DNA passes through the nanopore, specific sequences are identified based on varying electronic signals from the different bases. As a result, the technology can read DNA sequences directly and continuously. The company says double-stranded DNA can be sensed directly from blood.

The announcement comes at a time when the cost and time of DNA sequencing is dropping dramatically. Earlier this year, Life Technologies showed off a benchtop sequencer that it says can decode a human genome in one day for less than $1,000. By making sequencing far cheaper and faster, the new generation of instruments could finally make personalized medicine a reality.