This handheld DNA sequencer could let regular civilians analyze genetic material

handheld dna sequencer minion civilians analyze genetic samples oxfordnanoporeminion
It used to be that Star Trek’s infamous Tricorder device only existed in the realm of science fiction, but a real-life working version is bringing Trekkie tech to the real world, and helping humanity detect, analyze and diagnose illness in a whole new way. MinION, as it’s called, is a fully portable handheld DNA sequencer that can not only detect the presence of an infection, but also estimate the severity of disease before the outbreak gets out of hand.

In the Star Trek universe, doctors used the medical Tricorder device to collect bodily information about their patients. Sometimes it was used to distinguish specific diseases or illnesses, or sometimes to diagnose new or alien health conditions. The name comes from the full name of the fictional device, the tri-function recorder, since it was used for three purposes: to sense, compute, and record patient data.

In real life, this medical device will be able to scan and analyze patient samples virtually anywhere. Doctors will be able to scan sick patients’ breath to identify bacteria causing curious illnesses. Health workers will be able to detect dangerous microbes spreading infections in hospitals. And beyond its health-specific applications, the MinION will also be useful in agricultural regulation, fresh produce, and food processing checks, and could even play an important role in protecting endangered animal species from diseases and the risks of illegal trafficking.

nanopore

Inventors and researchers working on the MinION project are proponents of what has come to be known as “the democratization of sequencing”. DNA makes up the building blocks of life on Earth, but has largely been inaccessible to civilians and individuals outside research labs and the medical profession. The handheld MinION device is another step towards a world where anyone can gather information and process DNA samples for their own personal purposes. Nanopore technology allows an ionic current to pass through nano-scale holes in the device, measuring changes in the current to identify the biological components of molecules as they progress through the system.

Genetics is an intricate and influential field of science, but the study of DNA also leads to controversial conversations about how future applications of sequencing technology could be highly dangerous or even outright wrong. Assessing genetic suitability for certain tasks is an idea framed by popular culture in the 1997 film, Gattaca. In the movie, DNA from strands of hair was analyzed to determine the hierarchy of suitability for potential astronauts launching into space. As Gattaca fans will remember, DNA sequencing starts a slippery slope from real genetic science to social philosophy built on theories of eugenics.

The MinION device itself is 10 centimeters long and weighs 90 grams, and its portability is matched by its $1000 price tag. This is an affordable option for professionals and scientists, especially when compared to the high costs of other DNA sequencing technologies. MinION could be a game-changer in the medical and biotech fields, since the device could eliminate the costly/time-consuming need to ship DNA samples to research labs.

An improved turnaround time for DNA sequencing results could be the difference between life and death in situations where dangerous contagions are at play. Looking back on outbreaks of Ebola or even Avian flu in recent years, it’s clear to see that MinION could significantly stifle the spread of dangerous diseases in the remote locations where they often originate. In time, the MinION device could even become an important teaching tool, as DNA sequencing becomes more accessible for interested civilians. If the democratization of sequencing takes hold as a movement, MinION data could even be linked to smart phones so that illnesses could be diagnosed in real time wherever they occur..

Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Wearables

Alphabet’s health watch monitors your heart health, is approved by the FDA

A health monitoring watch being developed by Alphabet, Google's parent company, has received clearance from the FDA as a medical device. This means that the device has been found to be safe and can legally be sold in the U.S.
Wearables

Omron HeartGuide brings blood pressure monitoring to your wrist

High blood pressure leads to heart attacks, strokes, and many other health problems, so it's important to keep an eye on. Omron's HeartGuide is a fitness tracking watch that can also monitor your blood pressure from your wrist.
Emerging Tech

Face-scanning A.I. can help doctors spot unusual genetic disorders

Facial recognition can unlock your phone. Could it also be used to identify whether a person has a rare genetic disorder, based on their facial features? New research suggests it can.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Too buzzed to drive? Don’t worry — this autonomous car-bar will drive to you

It might just be the best or worst idea that we've ever heard: A self-driving robot bartender you can summon with an app, which promises to mix you the perfect drink wherever you happen to be.
Emerging Tech

Scientists successfully grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish

Researchers have managed to grow human blood vessels in a Petri dish for the first time, and even to successfully implant them into live mice. The results could be a game-changer for diabetes.
Emerging Tech

Tiny animals discovered in Antarctic lake deep beneath the ice

Scientists have made a surprising discovery in Antarctica: the carcasses of tiny animals including crustaceans and a tardigrade were found in a lake that sits deep beneath over half a mile of Antarctic ice.
Emerging Tech

How long is a day on Saturn? Scientists finally have an answer

The length of Saturn's day has always been a challenge to calculate because of the planet's non-solid surface and magnetic field. But now scientists have tracked vibrations in the rings to pin down a final answer.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.