Scientists can now sequence DNA using a smartphone

Researchers have developed lightweight optical attachment, that can plug into a smartphone camera and decode human DNA

In a breakthrough in the field of science and technology, scientists have created a microscope that can plug into a smartphone camera and decode human DNA. This device, which looks very much like a tricorder from Star Trek, could make cancer screening accessible to healthcare workers in the more remote areas of the world.


It is aimed at the underdeveloped countries where doctors don't always have access to high-end tools or expertise to conduct DNA sequencing analysis and testing for genetic mutations.

The team of researchers from UCLA's California NanoSystems Institute and Sweden collaborated in making this lightweight optical attachment. While a typical microscope with multiple imaging modes would cost around $10,000 and a higher-end version such as the one used to validate this smartphone-based microscope would go easily for around $50,000, this new gadget could be mass produced for less than $500 each, said lead researcher Aydogan Ozcan, UCLA professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering, in a statement, as reported by PCMag.

smartphone-based microscope

According to UCLA, the gadget can even detect small amounts of cancer cells hidden among a large group of normal ones.

"Ultra-low-cost DNA sequencing and tumor biopsy analysis, in which morphology and mutation analysis are combined, can substantially decrease diagnostic costs and make it more widely accessible," one of the study's first authors, Malte Kühnemund of SciLifeLab, said, reported PCMag.

The prototype device, which is not yet commercially available, uses a Nokia Lumia 1020 handset, with a 38-megapixel camera featuring a 1/1.5-inch sensor; a long focal length of 6.86mm, plus the microscope's external lens provides a magnification factor of about 2.6 times. Basically, this very powerful yet tiny microscope uses the camera available in any modern smartphone to study human cells and tissues and detect the DNA sequencing reactions released into cells through a fluorescent chemical.