Researchers from Imperial College London are working on a way to sequence entire genomes in a matter of minutes. When perfected, their device should be able to read 10 million bases/second. To put that in perspective, current methods have a sequencing rate of about 10 bases/second. Each human genome has about three billion bases, which currently takes about 3.5 days to sequence. The new device will sequence an entire human genome in about five minutes.
The new device relies on the fact that each base has its own unique electrical signal. A single strand of DNA is fed through a 50 nanopore opening in a silicon chip. As it goes through the tiny gap, a tunneling electrode junction on the other side reads each base's distinct electrical signal.
Although using electrical signatures to read DNA is not a new idea, no one has been able create a small enough electrode junction until now. The Imperial College team successfully constructed a prototype with a small enough gap to read DNA bases. The next step will be to calibrate the device to identify individual bases. The scientists expect their method to be in wide use within the next ten years.