|Oxford Nanopore unveils mini-DNA reader|
By Clive Cookson, Science Editor
February 17, 2012 5:09 pm
A young British company has made a powerful entry into one of the fastest-moving and most competitive fields of technology – gene sequencing for science and medicine.
Oxford Nanopore, set up in 2005, unveiled on Friday the world’s first miniature DNA sequencer, small enough to fit in the hand.
The company says its technology reads the four biochemical letters of DNA more quickly and less expensively than the established companies in the field.
The corporate leaders in DNA sequencing are two US companies: Illumina, for which Roche of Switzerland launched a $5.7bn hostile bid last month, and Life Technologies, which made a splash with its recent announcement of a machine that could read a whole human genome – 3bn DNA letters – for just $1,000 in less than a day.
What makes Oxford Nanopore’s “strand sequencing” so effective is that it reads the chemical letters on the DNA directly, one by one, as the molecule ratchets through a microscopic nanopore – a round protein structure with a hole in the middle. Each letter is recognised by its distinct electrical signal.
One advantage of the technique is that it can read much longer strands of DNA than other sequencing methods. Another, said Clive Brown, chief technologist of Oxford Nanopore, is that it requires less sample preparation – making it possible for a doctor to read a patient’s DNA directly from a blood sample in the surgery.
Oxford Nanopore said its MINION sequencer, the size of a USB memory stick, would be available commercially this year at a price below $900.