from BioIT World by By Aaron Krol
Oxford Nanopore Technologies has built an impressive hardware operation from its home in the UK. Its MinION device, a handheld DNA sequencer smaller than a remote control, once seemed like the stuff of science fiction, built on the molecular engineering of “nanopores” at the scale of just a few atoms. Today the company is churning out hundreds of them to ship around the globe.
But Oxford Nanopore is also a software company, and its computer programs for use alongside the MinION are likely to become a larger part of its business in the future.
When the MinION was first launched, Oxford’s software efforts were limited to getting usable DNA data off the instrument. The MinION’s unique method of nanopore sequencing feeds out “squiggle plots” of fluctuating electrical signals, which have to be translated into the familiar genetic language of As, Ts, Cs and Gs before scientists can begin to interpret them. Oxford released the MinION with a platform to do this base calling in the cloud, giving the company its minimum viable product: a sequencer that professional geneticists can use to feed data into all their usual analysis tools.
Oxford’s real aim, however, is to push genetics outside the highly specialized world of bioinformatics. The MinION sequencer is radically easy to use without advanced training in laboratory techniques, and Oxford’s software spinout, Metrichor, wants to build analysis tools to match.
“What we really want is to empower people who are not confident doing their own bioinformatics,” says Dan Turner, Oxford Nanopore’s Senior Director of Applications. “We want to be able to bring sequencing into the hands of people who are a little bit intimidated by the analyses, and make it as easy and user-friendly as we can.”