Thursday, February 23, 2012

Disposable personal genome sequencers may be available by the end of the year for under $1000

Last week, Nature published a story about portable genome sequencers under development by a UK company called Oxford Nanopore Technologies (US company Ion Torrent Systems is developing its own technology in parallel).  The devices work by electronically reading the "letters" of the genetic code as single molecules of DNA pass through tiny nanometer-sized pores in a membrane.  The company is developing pocket-sized disposable devices to accomplish this for around $900 apiece.  Within a year, you may be able to decode your whole genome for a price cheaper than my family's first computer.

A prototype of the MinION, a personal genome sequencer.   Yes, that's a USB plug.  Oxford Nanopore Technologies.

Its error rate is still high (4%) but the company hopes to reduce this error to less than 1% by the time the device launches.  In addition, thus far they have only reported the sequencing of viral genomes, which are orders of magnitude smaller than the human genome.

Regardless, this is a very promising start.  The technology has been in development for the better part of two decades, but this would be the first practical application of it.  With so many known genetic markers of diseases, this kind of device could help usher in a new era of more personalized medicine (as well as a slew of possible ethical issues).

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