Human Handheld device

Handheld Device Sequences Human Genome

Scientists have used a device that fits in the palm of the hand to sequence the human genome.

Human Handheld device

They say the feat, detailed in the journal Nature Biotechnology, opens up exciting possibilities for using genetics in routine medicine.

It is a far cry from the effort to sequence the first human genome which started in 1990.

The Human Genome Project took 13 years, laboratories around the world and hundreds of millions of dollars.

Prof Nicholas Loman, one of the researchers and from the University of Birmingham, UK, “We’ve gone from a situation where you can only do genome sequencing for a huge amount of money in well equipped labs to one where we can have genome sequencing literally in your pocket just like a mobile phone.

“That gives us a really exciting opportunity to start having genome sequencing as a routine tool, perhaps something people can do in their own home.”

Sequencing technology has the potential to change the way we do medicine.

Analysing the mutated DNA of cancers could be used to pick the best treatment. Or inspecting the genetic code of bacteria could spot antibiotic resistance early.

The technology works by passing long strands of DNA through a tiny hole (the eponymous nanopore).

The building blocks of DNA are four bases known by their letters A, C, G and T. As each passes through the pore it creates a unique electrical signal that allows researchers to determine the DNA sequence.

“Telomere length can be quite important in cancer and ageing, it’s difficult in short reads because of the repeats, but we can see and start to map those things.”

But while the cost of the sequencing is tumbling, there remains a big barrier – being able to rapidly read the genetic code is not the same as understanding what it says.

Dr Sobia Raza, the head of science at the PHG Foundation genomics think tank, “Our ability to sequence whole genomes quickly and cheaply continues to improve.