[Source: Natali_Mis / Getty Images]
[Source: Natali_Mis / Getty Images]

Few gadgets in modern science are more intriguing than a hand-held, USB compatible, real-time DNA sequencer. The possibility of sequencing anyone, anywhere, and anytime for just about any reason is tantalizing. Making that a reality, however, is difficult when the current portable technology has an inaccuracy rate that is an order of magnitude higher than the genetic differences between human beings. That has made the holy grail of on-the-spot DNA fingerprinting impossible.

Until Now

In November, a team of scientists from Columbia University and the New York Genome Center (NYGC) reported in the journal eLife that they were able to verify the identity of a human DNA sample within three minutes of sequencing, with 99.9% confidence, using software they created for use with the MinION portable DNA sequencer.

“We thought: ‘If we can make this work, it would democratize DNA fingerprinting,” said Sophie Zaaijer, Ph.D., lead author of the study. Zaaijer is a former member of the NYGC and is now a member of the Runway Startup Postdoc Program at the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute.

The technique, called MinION Sketching, can quickly and accurately identify people and cell lines using DNA. The technology puts field forensics by non-scientists, such as law enforcement agents, within reach. But, the most immediate application for its use, the study’s authors say, is cell-line authentication, which could potentially save billions in preclinical research dollars.

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