It is now possible to use a cheap, lightweight and smartphone-powered DNA detector to identify DNA in blood, urine and other samples, on the spot.
Ming Chen at the Army Medical University in China and his colleagues developed a portable DNA detector made of 3D-printed parts that attach to a standard smartphone.
The device can detect DNA based on characteristic mutations or short genetic sequences. It costs less than $10 to make, weighs just 60 grams, and takes 80 minutes to produce a result.
The detector is heated by the smartphone. Samples can be loaded into the detector and mixed with pre-filled chemicals that light up or change colour if there is any DNA that matches. The signals are detected through a lens and a light box and the smartphone displays the result.
It identified E. coli bacteria in urine, milk and river water. It also identified a bacterium that attacks kiwi fruit plants in ground-up samples of the plant’s leaves.
Overall, the accuracy of the device was about 97 per cent when compared with standard laboratory methods. The researchers say the device could potentially be modified to identify RNA as well, which would be useful for detecting RNA viruses like the covid-19 virus responsible for the coronavirus pandemic.
Jacqueline Savard at Deakin University in Australia says the technology has the potential to cause unintended consequences if used outside normal clinical settings, because people wouldn’t have access to support and guidance if they test positive for an illness.
Journal reference: Science Advances, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz7445
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