Single Molecule Nanopore DNA Sequencer

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A single molecule nanopore DNA sequencer is a novel new device that allows for the sequencing of a single DNA molecule translocated through a molecular nanopore embedded on a silicon chip.  A nanopore a hole smaler than 100nm built into a membrane.  The current technology uses a Mycobacterium smegmatis porin A (MspA) channel protein as the nanopore to read the sequence.  The DNA strand is passed through the positively charged nanopore, attracting the negatively charged portion of the DNA strand to the pore wall creating a current that can be read to determine the sequence. 

Roche, the licensee of the technology, is incorporating IBM Research DNA transistor technology to slow and control the passage of the DNA molecule through the nanopore, overcoming some of the engineering challenges the scientific research faced[fn][/fn].  Roche is currently working on a third generation nanopore reader molecule to replace MspA that will provide better differentiation between the DNA bases.  Proof of concept is already complete and Roche and its partners are currently working on the commercialization of the sequencer. 

Once available, the product will allow for the rapid sequencing of DNA for a cost well below $1000.  This will have the effect of greatly democratizing DNA sequencing to aid in the detection of disease and genetic disorder.   Healthcare professionals will be able to pinpoint deficiencies which will lead to quicker and more accurate diagnostics.  This method is much more efficient and cost-effective than previous DNA sequencing methods such as the Maxam-Gilbert and Saner Sequencing methods.

DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1001831107


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Nanopore analysis is an emerging technique that involves using a voltage to drive molecules through a nanoscale pore in a membrane between two electrolytes, and monitoring how the ionic current through the nanopore changes as single molecules pass through it. This approach allows charged polymers (including single-stranded DNA, double-stranded DNA and RNA) to be analyzed with subnanometre resolution and without the need for labels or amplification.





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This novel DNA sequencing method has the potential to significantly reduce the cost and time it takes to sequence DNA, allowing for better drugs, treatments, and diagnosis of disease.


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The human health and ecological risks of DNA sequencing are low, but the risks to the human condition are more complex, ambiguous and uncertain. It is unknown how democratizing DNA sequencing will impact society, but DNA sequencing and genetic engineering have some ethical and security concerns that may arise in the future.

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