Low-cost DNA sequencer uses Nokia 1020's camera as a microscope

But their technique could eventually be used with other smartphones' cameras.

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Mariella Moon
January 19, 2017 3:14 PM

If the Nokia 1020 has a memorable feature, it's surely the phone's 41-megapixel camera -- the same one a team of researchers are now using for their phone-based DNA sequencer and molecular analyzer. The scientists from the University of California, Los Angeles, Sweden's Stockholm University and Uppsala University have developed a $500 3D-printed phone attachment that turns a device's camera into a microscope. Health workers in developing nations and remote locations can use the attachment to find genetic mutations that cause diseases without having to send samples to a lab. It's definitely a lot more affordable than comparable microscopes medical professionals use, which could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Testing starts by placing a tissue sample, such as tissue from a tumor, in a small container. The optical attachment and the phone's camera capture multi-color fluorescence and bright-field images of the sample. They then feed data and images to an algorithm that analyzes DNA sequences and find mutations in the tissue. According to the researchers, their creation is powerful enough to detect small amount of cancer cells and other mutations in a large group of normal cells. Mats Nilsson, one of the team leaders, explained:

"It's very important to have these molecular testing approaches at a doctor's office or where care is being given. Oftentimes, advanced lab-based testing is performed at major hospitals, which is limiting, as not everyone has access to a hospital that can perform these tests."

By the way, health workers won't have to worry about running out of Nokia 1020 phones to buy from eBay. The researchers said that while the 1020's camera has an impressive magnification factor (2.6x), the attachment can be adapted to work with newer phones.

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