Scientists develop tiny microscope attached to mobile phone for sequencing DNA

It might sound something straight out of science fiction, but scientists have developed a tiny microscope that could be attached to a mobile phone and can sequence DNA.

The camera is capable of identifying mutations in DNA samples that are associated with certain cancers, and produce images of the same quality as conventional microscopes.

The battery-powered phone attachment is built in a 3D printer and according to its inventors, it could be made for just $500 apiece if mass-produced – far less than the tens of thousands of dollars paid for lab microscopes.

With the help of the device, collaborators from Sweden's Stockholm and Uppsala universities and the University of California could detect a mutation that occurred in 30 per cent of colon cancers.

According to experts, the technology could be used to diagnose patients almost instantly, rather than having to send samples to laboratories.

Mats Nilsson, one of the authors, says, ''It's very important to have these molecular testing approaches at a doctor's office or where care is being given'', home.bt.com reported.

"It can use the information that is carried in our DNA to make diagnoses," professor Mats Nilsson told the BBC.

"There are two main areas where this is done today.

"In cancer, where certain mutations in tumours confer resistance to drugs, it can be used to prescribe the right treatments.

"And in infectious diagnostics, it's the fastest way to work out if an infection is viral or bacterial, and, if it's bacteria, to figure out if it carries antibiotic resistant genes or not."

To use the device, a sample of the patient's tissue is placed in a container and is put under a special lens attached to the smartphone's own camera.

The sample is then subjected to a beam of light from two laser diodes and a white LEC, in a pre-set sequence and the resulting images are then fed into an algorithm for analysis.

According to Nilsson the equipment could be put to immediate use to treat tuberculosis in India and elsewhere.