What if you could put a few cells into a USB stick, plug it into your laptop and get back a complete DNA sequence in a matter of minutes? Researchers at Columbia University and Oxford Nanopore have built a USB device that will do just that.
The minION (pronounced “min-eye-on” not “min-ee-un” and neither yellow nor cute) is the world’s first compact DNA sequencing device. It has been described as “a rapid, inexpensive, and portable strategy to robustly re-identify human DNA”. It is also highly accurate. The minION weighs under 100 g and plugs into a PC or laptop using a USB cable. No additional computing infrastructure is required. Since it is not constrained to a laboratory environment, it has been used in a jungle, in the arctic and on the International Space Station.
This pocket DNA sequencer has implications for crime scene investigation, scientific research and identifying victims in a mass disaster. However, its most immediate use could be to flag mislabeled or contaminated cell lines in cancer experiments, a major reason studies are later invalidated.
While the minION may seem like a revolutionary technology, scientists predict that they will soon become like telescopes: “formerly boutique scientific instruments that you can now buy from a toy store”.