Sequencing DNA with a thumb drive faces skepticism

Oxford Nanopore has built lots of buzz for its sequencing system that fits in a USB drive, which could provide unparalleled mobility while decoding DNA. Yet there are plenty of skeptics who are questioning whether the device will live up to its billing.

Wired magazine explored the technology that enables the U.K. company's device, dubbed the MinION, to rapidly sequence samples of DNA and turn around results in short order. The device has gained media attention because, for starters, it plugs into a PC and comes at the bargain price of $900. Oxford Nanopore plans to release the product commercially in the second half of this year.

The company uses tiny holes called nanopores, which detect the electrical charge of different base pairs in a strand of DNA as they pass through. And the bioinformatics that support the organization of the decoded DNA data operate in real-time, so investigators are able to get some results almost instantly, Wired reported. San Diego-based lab software provider Accelrys ($ACCL) optimized its pipeline product to facilitate workflows for Oxford's sequencer.

Still, competitors and scientists are reserving their verdicts on the MinION until they see the system in action. For instance, Life Technologies ($LIFE) CEO Greg Lucier, whose company develops sequencers, was skeptical about whether Oxford's system could rely on standard computers to do the hefty processing needed to support DNA sequencing.

"There is no way a standard computer could do that kind of processing," Lucier told Wired.

- check out the Wired article