Genome sequencing in the palm of your hand

MinION MkI genome sequencer. Credit: Oxford Nanopore

Researchers at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research along with colleagues at Oxford in UK have demonstrated a full sequencing of the bacteria Escherichia Coli using a palm sized sequencer, the MinION.

What they did was a mix of software and hardware. The hardware leverages on nanopore technology to read strings of DNA but given the mini-size of the devices, two orders of magnitude smaller than normal sequencers, there is no space for parallelising and hence auto correct errors. This is taken care by the software.

Most interesting the effectiveness of the collaboration across the ocean that benefitted from an open approach including the set up of a hackathon to challenge researchers in the development of more effective algorithms.

I also found of interest that they modelled the nano-pore sequencer using mathematical models.  
The device, as it stands, works for smaller sequencing but they hope to be able to scale it up to tackle a human genome. If that becomes feasible it could bring to our hands (or better our doctor's hands) the possibility of sequentialising specific cancer cells thus identifying by mining big health care data the most appropriate approch to fight it.

If I think at the batches of computers that have been used just 15 years ago in the quest for the human genome, looking at something that can do just that sitting in the palm of my hand it is really incredible.

Author - Roberto Saracco

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