South Tech Today: Tabletop DNA Sequencer

MiSeqDX DNA sequencer
MiSeqDX DNA sequencer

What do you get the science fan who has everything? What’s next after you get Google Glass, drive a hydrogen-powered, self-driving car, wear out your first 3D printer, and turn over part of your garage to drone storage? That’s right: your own personal DNA sequencer.

Today’s Los Angeles Times ran a story about the next frontier in genetic medicine: a compact DNA sequencer that can analyze a genome in about a day for $5000. Compared to the usual time of several weeks, this is blindingly fast and cheap. The machine, the MiSeqDX by Illumina, has a footprint of about four square feet and is, according to the manufacturer, the first and only FDA-cleared in vitro diagnostic next-generation sequencing system. The list price will be $125,000, which means you can buy one for roughly the cost of a Bentley Continental.

With machines such as the MiSeqDX, the Times reports,

… researchers will be able to look for subtle variations and disease-causing patterns anywhere in DNA, including the long stretches that until recently were regarded as “junk.” What they learn will enable doctors to warn their patients of their genetic vulnerabilities, allowing patients, in turn, to take steps to reduce their risk.

Since this isn’t a medical device blog, why is this here? For your approval, I refer you to Chapter 49 of my near-future thriller South, set in 2032:

He took the sample from the inside of her cheek and fed the swab into a low, boxy machine in an off-white case with a video screen on top. A DNA analyzer; she’d seen them in police offices all around the country. The cop poked at the screen and stabbed some buttons and yellow lights flashed on the control panel and the machine peeped.

Five minutes. She had to stand there for five minutes and smile and pray that Hope didn’t say the wrong thing and that their scan of Hope’s DNA didn’t come back early. And not pass out from not being able to breathe…

In South, the process takes about five minutes. How long before the MiSeqDX or one of its descendants will sell for $1250? Once again, the real world catches up to fiction.

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