Tuesday, February 21, 2012

MinION USB stick decodes DNA in a matter of seconds

If you happen to be "special," then this $900 USB device is just about the worst thing ever. The aptly named MINion serves its masters by interrogating the cells of living organisms and rooting out their genetic secrets. We won't pretend to know exactly how it works, but it starts by pulling a strand of DNA through a razor-like nanotube that unzips the double helix. The nucleotide bases are then electrocuted one by one until they give up their code. The resulting sequence is stored like a ticker-tape readout, for the whole world to see. The MinION can complete its task in seconds and, unlike most other DNA sequencers, it's portable and simply plugs into a laptop. Luckily, it has so far only been shown to work on very short genomes, like those belonging viruses and bacteria, so for now you're probably safe.


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