A portable DNA sequencing device is being developed

A portable DNA sequencing device that is fast, cheap and small is being developed by a British company, The New York Times reports.

The company, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, expect to start selling the device by the end of the year. It is the size of a USB memory stick that can be plugged into a laptop computer to load off the results. The cost is expected to be less than $900, and will allow small sequencing jobs to be done by researcher who can't afford buying the sequencing machines that are at the hefty price between $50,000 and $750,000.

"You don't need to buy instruments," Clive G.Brown, the chief technology officer of he company said. "It's pay-as-you-go sequencing."

Sequencing means determining the order of the bases--represented by the letters A,C,G, or T-- of the DNA. The orders of these bases can determine if the DNA is receptive to some diseases. The company uses pores form bacterial proteins and have an electric current flow through the pore. The bases interrupt the current in different ways as they go through it.

Andrew Pollack reports:

Outsiders have not tried the machines, and there can be a big difference between rosy specifications and how well a machine works when it finally reaches the market. Some other sequencers that initially dazzled the field have faltered in the marketplace.

The instrument can help doctors sequence genes at a patient's bedside, wildlife biologists that study genes in the field, or food inspectors that are trying to identity pathogens, The New York Times reports. However, it does have a 4 percent error rate which is too big to determine many applications and diagnosis.

Elaine Mardis, the co-director of the genome institute at Washington University in St.Louis, said that if the device works out it will be a game-changer.  Chad Nusbaum, of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., said that the device is impressive, credible, and possibly amazing.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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