The World's First Handheld DNA Amplifier Is a Genetics Lab In a Box

DNA sequencing is crucial for identifying and tracking nasty viruses like E. coli and the flu. But current tabletop-size DNA sequencing machines aren't readily portable. Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand have a solution in a brick-sized DNA sequencer that connects wirelessly to a smartphone or laptop.

The device, called Freedom4, brings the quantitative PCR method of DNA sequencing to the field. The brick-sized machine has a six-hour battery life and can process DNA samples in one step, identifying the presence and extent of, say, a norovirus infection in under an hour.

This capability is monumental for doctors, veterinarians, and public health officials working to quickly identify viral infections in the field. In testing, Freedom4 performed as well as full-size laboratory DNA sequencing machines in identifying and quantifying samples infected with E. coli and respiratory viruses including the H1N1 strain of swine flu that caused a global pandemic in 2009.

The World's First Handheld DNA Amplifier Is a Genetics Lab In a Box

Freedom4 shown in red, with the research team that invented it. Photo by Sharron Bennett

As Popular Mechanics points out, this capability could help diagnose diseases and guide treatment on-the-spot, whether in hospitals or in remote areas of the globe. It could also help anyone needing to identify specific microbes, from farmers to beer brewers.

Now that the six-year project has been proven to function, the next step is commercializing the lab-in-your-hand. It's a great time to be a DNA nerd. [University of Otago via Popular Mechanics]

Image provided by Dr. Jo Stanton