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Miniature DNA sequencer on trial

16 September 2014

This Way Up talked to Mike Berridge and David Eccles about their new research tool.

When the complete human genome was first sequenced in 2003, it took more than a decade, required huge machines and cost billions of dollars. Next generation sequencers were a step smaller, faster and cheaper, and were centralised because of the cost.

The new sequencer being trialled by Professor Mike Berridge, Dr James Baty and bioinformaticist David Eccles at the Malaghan Institute, is about the size of a muesli bar and can sequence DNA on site in hours.

Developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, the miniature sequencer connects to a laptop via a USB cable. The genetic sequences are read off as the DNA in a sample is sucked through tiny pores in the MinION device.

DNA sample preparation is also radically simplified, which opens the way for the technology to be applied to many other medical, health and biological problems.

The Malaghan Institute is one of about 500 laboratories worldwide that are currently trialling a prototype sequencer before a final version is commercialised.

“It's a very impressive device that changes almost everything about how sequencing is done. We don’t have to send samples of DNA away to be sequenced, but can do it here, in real time,” says Professor Berridge. “It’s not designed for large-scale whole genome sequencing but its size, speed and convenience is revolutionary for the work we are doing.”

Listen to the podcast (titled Speedy sequencing), which first aired on Radio New Zealand National on Saturday 13 September.