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Scientists develop mobile genetics laboratory

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Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) scientists have developed the world’s first mobile genome sequence analyser.

iGenomics pairs an iPhone with a handheld DNA sequencer, allowing users to create a mobile genetics laboratory. The iGenomics app runs entirely on the iOS device, reducing the need for laptops or large equipment in the field.

Aspyn Palatnick programmed iGenomics in CSHL, adjunct associate professor Michael Schatz’s laboratory, over a period of eight years, starting when he was a 14-year-old high school intern.

Schatz said: “As the sequencers continued to get even smaller, there were no technologies available to let you study that DNA on a mobile device. Most of the studying of DNA: aligning, analyzing, is done on large server clusters or high-end laptops.

“Today, we all carry professional cameras in our pockets, so it is not that hard to imagine in the next couple years, all of us carrying our own DNA sequencers on our smartphones. There’s just so many opportunities to do measurements of our environment and look for pathogens, maybe even do scans of yourself.”

The iGenomics algorithm can quickly map DNA sequences of viral pathogens, such as a flu virus or Zika virus, and identify mutations important for diagnosis and treatment. They also provide an online tutorial for analysing other viral genomes, such as from a SARS-CoV-2 patient.

Users can also AirDrop sequencing data to each other, enabling DNA analysis in the most remote locations–even those without internet access. iGenomics may soon even find its way into the hands of astronauts.

Schatz added: “There’s a lot of interest to do DNA sequencing in space. I’m trying to see if there’s a way we can get iGenomics up there. There’s a lot of people that are interested to do that.”

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