The world’s first DNA “Tricorder” in your pocket

Aspyn Palatnick has organized the world’s first mobile genetics lab at the 125th anniversary Open House of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Combinations of the new iPhone app, iGenomics, DNA Analyzer, and Oxford Nanopore’s USB-sized MinION, DNA Sequencers, make genome analysis portable and accessible. Credit: CSHL

Scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) have developed the world’s first mobile genome analysis sequence, a new iPhone app called iGenomics. Pairing an iPhone with a hand DNA sequencer, users can create a mobile genetics lab, reminiscent of the “tricord” that appears in Star Trek. The IGenomics app works fully on the iOS device, reducing the need for laptops or large equipment, which is useful for pandemic and environmental workers. Aspyn Palatnick programmed iGenomics in the full-time CSHL lab of Associate Professor Michael Schatz, starting at the age of 14, when he was a 14-year-old high school fellow.

The iPhone app was developed as a complement to the tiny DNA sequencing devices made by Oxford Nanopore. Palatnick, now a software engineer at Facebook, already had experience building iPhone apps when he joined the Schatz lab. He and Schatz realized:

“Because the sequencers are even smaller, there was no technology available on a mobile device to analyze that DNA. Most DNA analysis: alignment, analysis is done on large server clusters or high-end laptops.”

Aspyn Palatnick 2013

15-year-old Aspyn Palatnick learns the basics of genome analysis in Michael Schatz’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor Lab in 2013. Credit: CSHL

Schatz acknowledged that the scientists studying the pandemic were “flying in suitcases full of nanopores and laptops and other servers to perform this analysis in remote areas.” iGenomics helps make genome analysis more portable, accessible, and cheaper.

Users can sequence AirDrop data, enabling DNA analysis in the most remote locations, even those without Internet access. Schatz describes that iGenomics will soon also be in the hands of astronauts:

“There’s a lot of interest in DNA sequencing in space. I’m trying to find a way to get iGenomics up there. There are a lot of people who are interested in doing that. It’s a real testament to what it would be impossible to do on ordinary computers.

In the magazine Gigascience, Palatnick and Schatz reported that the iGenomics algorithm can quickly map DNA sequences of viral pathogens, such as influenza virus or Zika virus, and identify mutations that are important for diagnosis and treatment. They also offer an online tutorial to study other viral genomes, such as a SARS-CoV-2 sick.

Schatz dreams that this device will also help rural workers and citizen scientists:

“Nowadays, we all carry professional cameras in our pockets, so it’s not so hard to imagine for the next two years. We all carry our DNA sequencers on smartphones. There are plenty of options to measure our environment and look for pathogens, maybe even scan your head.”

Reference: December 7, 2020, Gigascience.
DOI: 10.1093 / gigascience / giaa138

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