Putting the Brakes on DNA Speeds Sequencing by 2,000 Times

Since the human genome was sequenced six years ago, the cost of producing a high-quality genome sequence has dropped precipitously. More recently, the National Institutes of Health called for cutting the cost to $1,000 or less, which may enable sequencing as part of routine medical care.

The obstacles to reaching that goal have been primarily technological: Scientists have struggled to figure out how to accurately read the three billion base pairs—the amount of DNA found in humans and other mammals—without time-consuming, inefficient methods.

Physicists at Brown University may have an answer. They now introduce a novel procedure to vastly slow the DNA’s movement through openings that are used to read the code. In the journal Nanotechnology, the physicists report the first experiment to move DNA through a solid-state nanopore using magnets. The approach is promising because it allows multiple segments of a DNA strand to be threaded simultaneously through numerous tiny pores and for each fragment to move slowly enough through the opening so that the base pairs can be accurately read.

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