Increasing focus on nanopore DNA sequencing

19 August 2014

Nanopore technology this past week has been the focus of developments in DNA sequencing technology on both sides of the Atlantic.

Researchers at the University of Illinois have said that a relatively new material for nanopore DNA sequencing, molybdenum disulphide (MoS2), could result in faster, more accurate and cheaper DNA sequencing. 

Using computer modelling to predict function, nanopores in MoS2 were found by the researchers to outperform even graphene in nanopore DNA sequencing.

MoS2 was previously reported to be a potentially valuable material for nanopore DNA sequencing, because it is a single-layer sheet thin enough to let through only one DNA base at a time, and DNA does not stick to MoS2 as it threads through the nanopore. The MoS2 nanopore simulations created by the Illinois group yielded four distinct signals corresponding to the bases in a double-stranded DNA molecule, whereas other systems have yielded at best two, requiring further computational analysis in order to distinguish all four.

The team are now exploring whether coupling MoS2 with another material could create a better DNA sequencing device that would be low-cost, fast and accurate. Researcher Amir Barati Farimani said: “The ultimate goal of this research is to make some kind of home-based or personal DNA sequencing device”.

Meanwhile, the prospects for nanopore based sequencing in general are clearly considered strong, with the news of a further £35 million in investment funding for the UK-based market leader Oxford Nanopore Technologies. This raises the total investment in the original nanopore-based next-generation DNA sequencing company since 2005 to £180 million.

Oxford Nanopore plans to use the funding to invest in infrastructure for its MiniIon Nanopore sequencer, including production and logistics, customer support, and application development. The funding will also be used for R&D in order to develop nanopore sensing products for molecules other than DNA.

The company will face plenty of competition, however. Earlier this month, the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) injected $14.5 million into the development of new and improved DNA sequencing technologies, including for several nanopore-based research projects. 

Editor's note: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that the use of MoS2 for nanopore-based sequencing was in fact published earlier this year by a Swiss group.

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