Biodiversa has developed a portable device of great sensitivity and precision, but low cost and easy to use, allowing a rapid amplification and quantification of DNA so it can also be used outside laboratories and large research centres: the small-size “Finder”, specifically developed by Biodiversa to work at 12V, with integrated fluorometer to measure the success of the reaction, is the technological innovation that allows use of the instrumentation directly in the field. In the DNA Field Lab project of MUSE, Trento, the Finder plays a vital role, providing the necessary genetic material for the sequencing phase, which is then carried out thanks to a portable sequencer.
DNA Field Lab is the first portable device for DNA sequencing. At the moment still a prototype, this technology for the first time allows the sequencing of any biological material in “real-time”, directly in the field. This is a device that contains the instrumentation and reagents required for the extraction, purification, amplification and sequencing of DNA at room temperature. The sequencing is obtained through the use of third-generation sequencers similar in size or smaller than a toaster. In its final version, the kit will feature a device for the electronic transmission of the sequence obtained via a cellular (3G/4G) or satellite data-transmission network, to send the research results directly from the field to the lab, anywhere in the world.
DNA Field Lab is designed primarily to enable the analysis of the bar-coding sequence, which makes it possible to identify the species by analysing a definite portion of the mitochondrial DNA. The first main field of application will be the molecular-based identification of wild species in pan-tropical countries, but the portability and low cost of the device, as well as the quick results it delivers, will allow its use in many other applications in the future. Particularly in areas of the world with low infrastructure, the kit could prove to be a valuable tool in the medical field for all those analyses where field operation and quick results are fundamental prerogatives, e.g. for customs investigations on trade in endangered species, or to determine product-label correspondence in foodstuffs. Reducing times and costs will also make the kit a convenient and affordable solution in those countries that already have a consolidated sequencing practice, finding application in conservation projects, such as combating alien species or the trade in items made from wild animals, or in analysis processes aimed at ensuring food safety.
The analysis of biodiversity will be the first application of the new technology. The discrepancy between the distribution of biodiversity and the infrastructure necessary for its investigation is still rather significant. In fact, while the majority of global diversity is concentrated in the inter-tropical area, almost all sequencers can be found in the economically advanced countries of temperate regions. The portability, low price and speed of data transmission are the characteristics that make the kit a potentially ideal solution, allowing users to complete the entire molecular investigation process in the field, and thus eliminating the discrepancy and freeing countries with the highest biodiversity of the planet from a state of dependence on those that have infrastructure.