Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lava lamps and DNA or Thermal Cyclers for everybody

A new breakthrough in technology will allow cheap and ubiquitous PCR diagnosis:

A pocket-sized device that runs on two AA batteries and copies DNA as accurately as expensive lab equipment has been developed by researchers in the US.

The device has no moving parts and costs just $10 to make. It runs polymerase chain reactions (PCRs), to generate billions of identical copies of a DNA strand, in as little as 20 minutes. This is much faster than the machines currently in use, which take several hours.

To cycle through these temperatures, a conventional PCR machine heats and cools a large metal block holding multiple tubes containing samples of DNA and the material needed to make copies.

In the new device, created by graduate student Nitin Agrawal, a centimetre-wide loop of tubing wraps in a vertical ring around a set of three metal rods. The rods, together the size of an AA battery, are kept at three different temperatures. With this set-up, the parts of the tube closest to each block are heated differently.

This keeps the liquid flowing through the millimetre-wide tube, and so the DNA and building blocks cycle automatically through the three temperatures needed for PCR. "It's similar to how a lava lamp works," says Ugaz.

As the fluid is heated, it becomes less dense and more buoyant, so it flows upward. When the fluid cools in another part of the loop, it becomes denser and moves down. And because the device only heats the three small blocks of metal, it also runs off just two AA batteries.

This brings new and incredible perspectives, from setting finally a Global Epidemiology Network, scanning in real time samples from thousands of places in situ and at a much lower cost to the creation of new markets for DNA testing for inherited conditions and infectious diseases in poor countries. Low profit, billions of potential clients. I am sure that it is bound to happen in a short period of time. And a lot of collateral business opportunities will bloom, once the devices are working.

A picture of this gadget:

I feel very optimistic about this, this is only one of the many "leapfrogging" devices that will make the development of willing poor countries easier and swifter. India sure will take advantage of this. Venezuela, in the other hand, isn't, we are too busy buying AK 47s.

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David Bradley said...

This looks amazing, but how seriously will funding bodies take any researcher putting in for a grant for less than $20 equipment costs to include a few spare batteries...?


Guido said...

I think that funding bodies woh are for using wisely the resources and think in network terms could be extermely interested in fundingm this cost effective solutions.