DNA sequencing is becoming both faster and cheaper. Now, it is also becoming tinier.
A British company said on Friday that by the end of the year it would begin selling a disposable gene sequencing device that is the size of a USB memory stick and plugs into a laptop computer to deliver its results.
The device, expected to cost less than $900, could allow small sequencing jobs to be done by researchers who cannot afford the $50,000 to $750,000 needed to buy a sequencing machine.
It might also help doctors to sequence genes at a patient’s bedside, wildlife biologists to study genes in the field, or food inspectors to identify pathogens.
“You don’t need to buy instruments,” Clive G. Brown, the chief technology officer of the company, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, said in an interview. “It’s pay-as-you-go sequencing.”
Oxford presented details of the device, as well as of a new, somewhat larger sequencer that it also plans to begin selling late this year, at the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology conference in Marco Island, Fla., which has become the sequencing industry’s annual boast-fest.
Both the tiny MinIon and the larger GridIon look likely to be the first sequencers to use nanopore sequencing, in which a strand of DNA is read as it is pulled through a microscopic hole, sort of like a noodle being slurped through rounded lips.
Outsiders have not tried the machines, and there can be a big difference between rosy specifications and how well a machine works when it finally reaches the market. Some other sequencers that initially dazzled the field have faltered in the marketplace.
Still, many experts at the conference were dazzled anew.
“If it does work, it will be a game-changer,” said Elaine Mardis, co-director of the genome institute at Washington University in St. Louis. Chad Nusbaum of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass., called it “impressive, credible, possibly amazing.”
Isaac Ro, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, said in a note Friday that the Oxford technology had “impressive performance specs” that suggested it would be a “significant competitor” to Illumina and Life Technologies, the leaders in the sequencing business.
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