Genome testing is now easy, fast and pretty

Fluidigm's Juno genome sequencer

Genome testing gear doesn't get a lot of love. Like a lot of lab equipment, it tends to be ugly and unwieldy -- it's not designed with the same elegance as the smartphone in your pocket. Mercifully, the crew at Fluidigm appears to have solved those problems in one shot with its Juno genotyping machine. The Yves Behar-designed device is (dare we say it) pretty, and wouldn't look out of place sitting on a desk. It's also more intuitive, relying on a large, simple touchscreen interface instead of keyboards and tiny displays.

And importantly, it's fast. Juno uses a new circuit that can extract DNA, pre-amplify it (to make the genes readable) and test it all in a single step, saving testers from coming back multiple times to move things along; they can slide in a genetic sample and get results in three hours, instead of the usual five or more. They won't need multiple devices, either. The hardware should be more effective, to boot, since it needs only a tiny amount of DNA (about 5.5 nanograms) and isn't as prone to contamination as multi-step gear.

You're probably not going to buy Juno yourself -- you'd have to ask for a price quote, and it still requires a fair amount of skill. However, it could make a big impact on medicine if it catches on. The easier and faster it is to study genomes, the quicker doctors can diagnose patients and respond to viral outbreaks. You may get your flu shot a little earlier, for example. Juno also shows how genotyping technology could eventually reach the home. If it continues to get simpler, you might one day test yourself and give your physician vital info well before your next appointment.