Oxford Nanopore Technologies released a palm-sized gene sequencer, called MinION, in February 2014. It is a portable, cheap device that aims to allow the quick sequencing of genomes outside the lab. At a conference on the 14th and 15th May, pilot users of MinION will meet to discuss opportunities for its improvement and the development of programs that analyse the data is has generated.
The MinION can precisely sequence the small genomes of unicellular organisms such as bacteria and yeast. Once plugged in the USB port of a laptop, it displays the genetic information on the screen as it is being processed. The device can successfully distinguish between closely related bacteria and viruses which share many similar DNA sequences. The MinION can also read complex portions of the human genome and discriminate between the two alleles of genes.
Joshua Quick used MinIONs to sequence the genomes of Ebola viruses from 14 patients in Guineas in only 48 hours. He commented: “This is democratisation of sequencing. You don’t have to rely on expensive infrastructure and costly equipment.” The European Mobile Laboratory Project in Hamburg, Germany is planning to build a MinION laboratory at a treatment centre in Coyah, Guinea, that would facilitate patients’ DNA sequencing.
MinION is intended to provide alternative ways of using sequencing in the field. If the device is developed to run on an iPhone app, scientists will be able to perform on-the-spot identification of newly discovered species. NASA astrobiologists have also show interest in the device. They are planning to test how it works in microgravity and later maybe use to search for molecular signs of life on Mars.
Oxford Nanopore Technologies hopes to make the MinIONs faster and more accurate in the future. The price of the revolutionary gene sequencer is yet to be set.