I can’t wait to get my hands on one of these.
A recent Atlantic article details the development of a pocket-sized DNA sequencer, the MinION (yep, that is the real spelling they went with). Although limited to scientific missions for now, the tech will soon become a staple of amateur geneticists. Which I am most definitely not, but still…
So. much. FUN.
First item on my DNA sequencing to-do list: Test everyone I know, find out who is 2% or more Neanderthal, and shun them. I have exacting social standards, and the MinION will help me apply them in new and cruel ways. Note: I’m aware that I could turn out to be 2% or more Neanderthal. I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it.
Second item: Find out exactly what animals went into making Bullet the asthmatic panther. This weirdo can’t be 100% cat.
Third item: Root out replicants for a hundred-mile radius of my home. Replicant hunters have thus far relied on 1980s technology like the Voight-Kampff test. VK requires voluntary participation by the subject; never an easy thing to get. Retiring replicants is about to get a lot easier.
I don’t want to overstate things. Even though the MinION fits in your pocket, you can’t just jam the thing into an arm and have it spit out a genome map. The process still requires complex lab work to prepare a sample. A significant hitch in my plans.
But even this barrier to entry will be short-lived. This summer, the makers will test an add-on device that can prepare a biological sample for DNA testing on the spot. The size of this add-on? Two inches by one inch.
One geneticist suggested DNA sequencers may soon be available at the local toy store. This prototype is even powered by USB! Price will have to come down, but that’s a near-universal law for consumer tech. And the MinION isn’t even that expensive now. If you buy in bulk, each sequencer is only $500.
A new base-model iPhone retails for $600, and how many of those have you seen in the last 24 hours?
I will have my selfish fun with the new tech, but the societal implications are impressive. Research programs might provide sequencers to citizen volunteers. Kids in the backyard could help track mutations in mosquito-born viruses—or the mosquitoes themselves. Need to study site-specific mutations in the flu? No problem. Nasty GMO escapes the farm and runs wild? Let the kids chase it down.
The article paints the MinION as a complete positive. And the potential benefits—especially in treating disease—do seem wonderful. But I enjoy speculating about the unintended consequences.
What cultural changes might we expect? I think we might develop a new common genetic literacy. People could critique your base pairs with the same ease that they mock your clothes. I’m glad pocket sequencers weren’t around when I was in high school.
“OMG, did you see Walker’s mitochondrial DNA map?”
“He’s sooo Pleistocene.”
Or consider the new tech as a super-charged version of whole-body scanning. What happens when you can sit on your couch and learn your exact chances of developing every genetic disease? Do you spend more time trying to preempt the dangers than living?
I’m not anti-pocket DNA. It will probably do much good. But there are two sides to every chromosome.
And I NEED to identify those replicants.
So when my next birthday rolls around, you know what I’m asking for. Restaurants are going to HATE me. Excuse me, sir, why is there ostrich DNA in my water?
What—or who—would you scan first? Your significant other? What are they chances they have the psychopath gene? Pretty low, I’d imagine.
But you’d have to know, right?