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Advance in Nanopore Gene Sequencing

Magnets help in the quest for the $1000 genome

3 min read

Your DNA sequence could be the ultimate addition to your medical records, revealing disease risks and offering the possibility of tailored treatments. But first, researchers need to make the sequencing of your entire genome affordable. The National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Md., are pushing researchers to come up with technology that would sequence a person’s entire genome for just US $1000. One of the front-runners in that race is called nanopore sequencing, and physicists at Brown University, in Providence, R.I., recently took a big step toward getting nanopore sequencing down to the $1000 mark.

Genetic information is encoded on DNA as the sequence in which four chemicals, called bases, are strung together. Using today’s techniques, sequencing someone’s genome can take days and cost about $100 000. Nanopore sequencing promises to speed up and simplify reading the 3 billion bases. The idea is to use an electric field to pull a DNA strand through a nanometer-scale pore. The pore is in a silicon nitride film immersed in a salt solution. A voltage drives current, in the form of ions in the water, through the nanopore, sucking the DNA through it like a child eating a noodle. As each base passes through the pore, it blocks the current to a degree specific to each of the four types of bases. The hope is to read the minute changes in current and thereby identify the sequence of bases.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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