The technology from Oxford Nanopore could help advances in personalised medicine, a concept in which doctors use individual and genetic information to provide the best healthcare for a person.
This genetic information can only be revealed by cracking an individual’s DNA code, which is stored as four chemical bases – adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine.
DNA sequencing systems provide a printout detailing the order of a person’s As, Gs, Cs and Ts.
The technology electrically identifies DNA bases without the use of fluorescent labels, a common technique in DNA sequencing that requires time-consuming sample preparation.
It uses a nano-sized protein pore and a special enzyme called an exonuclease, both of which are set into an oily layer arrayed on a silicon chip.
The exonuclease works to split DNA bases from their strand and direct them into the aperture of the nanopore.
As bases pass through the pore, they briefly bind with a cyclodextrin sugar ring molecule.
This generates a disruption in an electric current that identifies the base in question.
The information is then processed to provide sequence data.
The technology, which is still in development, has the potential to provide substantial advantages over current sequencing approaches, not only in speed and cost but also in simplicity and versatility of overall workflow.
‘We are working to produce the first new generation of sequencing system that does not rely on fluorescent imaging,’ said Dr Gordon Sanghera, Oxford Nanopore chief executive officer.
‘A multiple-channel electrical detection system presents us with many interesting engineering challenges.’
Sanghera said that when complete, the system will be a substantial step for sequencing technology.
‘It is expected to have a profound effect on genome research,’ he said.
‘This has implications in many areas such as medicine, agriculture, evolutionary biology, human identification and much more.’