Mars Bar-sized device can decode your DNA
Dr David Eccles tests a miniature DNA sequencer called MinION, which in just a few hours can analyse a portion of our own personal DNA. Photo / Malaghan Institute
Finding out what nasty bugs are in your system could soon be done much faster thanks to a Mars Bar-sized device capable of quickly decoding your genetic make-up.
The Wellington-based Malaghan Institute has been testing a miniature DNA sequencer called MinION, which in just a few hours can analyse a portion of our own personal DNA.
Even just a decade ago, this took more than a decade, required huge machines and cost billions of dollars.
Soon, the sequencing time will become even faster — about 20 times in fact — when the institute receives upgraded software from designers Oxford Nanopore Technologies.
One of the scientists using it, bioinformatician Dr David Eccles, sees a future, perhaps just a few years away, where these devices will be used by doctors to check a throat swab for viral or bacterial infections in the same time it would take to carry out a brief blood test.
This would mean GPs could quickly prescribe a patient with an antibiotic specific to their infection, rather than a broad-spectrum drug which might not be as effective.
The device has been specifically used by the institute to sequence and compare different mitochondrial genomes, which are small compared with the full human genome sequence.
Sequencing mitochondrial genomes can be done much faster as scientists only have to work with around 16,300 “bases”, or nucleotides that are measurable sub-units of the DNA.
The MinION works by reading off the genetic sequences from a DNA sample as it travels through about 500 tiny pores in the device, with the data fed into a laptop it is attached to via USB.