Pocket-sized sequencers start to pay off big

Researcher holding MinIon in Antarctica
Friday, May 12, 2017
Elizabeth Pennisi

From the dry valleys of Antarctica to the depths of a Welsh coal mine, a promised revolution in genome sequencing may finally be catching fire. Just a few years ago, many researchers were skeptical or even outright critical of novel sequencing devices that read the bases in a DNA strand as it threads through a nanometer-sized pore. But last week, at a meeting in London organized by the devices' maker, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, academic researchers described using the instruments to decipher large genomes, rapidly characterize microbes, diagnose antibiotic resistance, and directly assess gene activity in cells. These portable sequencers have even proved their mettle in remote locations such as the Antarctic and underground, and Oxford Nanopore teased attendees with demos of a device powered by a smartphone. Some researchers caution that nanopore sequencers remain error-prone, and that the technology is still changing too quickly to be widely used. But others have fully embraced them, saying they greatly expand the potential for sequencers to be used by everyone.


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