Pocket-sized DNA reader used to scan entire human genome sequence
A few years back, a company called Oxford Nanopore announced it was developing a radically different way of sequencing DNA. Its approach involved taking single strands of the double helix and stuffing them through a protein pore. With a small bit of current flowing across the pore, the four bases of DNA each created a distinct (if tiny) change in the voltage as it passed through. These could be used to read the DNA one base at a time as it wiggled through the pore.
After several years of slow progress, Oxford Nanopore announced that its sequencing hardware would be as distinctive as its wetware: a USB device that could fit comfortably in a person's hand. As the first devices went out to users, it became clear that the device had some pros and cons. On the plus side, the device was quick and could be used without requiring a large facility to support it. It could also read very long stretches of DNA at once. But the downside was significant: it made lots of mistakes.
With a few years of experience, people are now starting to learn to make the most of the devices, as demonstrated by a new paper in which researchers use it to help sequence a human genome. By using the machine's long reads—in one case, nearly 900,000 bases from one DNA molecule—the authors were able to get data out of areas of the human genome that resisted characterization before. And they were able to distinguish between the two sets of chromosomes (one from mom, one from dad) and locate areas of epigenetic control in many areas of the genome.