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Outside the Lab Genetics and epigenetics, Microbiology and immunology, Point of care testing, Omics

Assemble the MinIONs

UK researchers are working on a technology which will potentially be able to offer whole genome sequencing in a tiny palm-top device, with high accuracy. Diagnosing infectious disease in remote areas, especially during outbreaks, is an ongoing challenge for researchers and physicians, and the minION sequencer has the potential to offer sequencing on the go with just a laptop and a sample.

Credit: Andrew Kilianski

Developed by Oxford Nanopore Technologies, the sequencer was given to several research groups for alpha testing (1). One of the groups reported that the device was able to identify viral and bacterial species from samples within six hours, identifying E. coli down to species level, and separating three poxviruses down to strain level, despite two of the viruses (vaccinia-MVA and vaccinia-Lister) having 98 percent similarity – a promising result.

Powered and operated using a USB connection to a laptop, minION contains protein nanopores through which single DNA strands pass, detecting the bases present using their distinct electrical signals. Since it is easily portable and relatively low in cost, it could potentially be used in inaccessible locations without lab access, in order to identify disease.

However, with its current 30 percent error rate in identifying individual bases, there is still room for improvement. In the current experiments, amplicon sequencing was used to aid identification of the microbes. But it is hoped that, as the technology evolves and matures, sequencing will become more accurate, and the device will have applications for both infectious disease control, and clinical genetics.

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  1. A Killianski et al., “Bacterial and viral identification and differentiation by amplicon sequencing on the minION nanopore sequencer”, GigaScience, [ePub ahead of print] (2015). PMID: 25815165.
About the Author
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as an Associate Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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