The tiny DNA sequencer uses a network of microscopic pumps, valves, heaters and electrophoresis channels, many of which were originally developed for a device to detect life on Mars. Mathies, Blazej and co-investigator Palani Kumaresan of Mechanical Engineering, adapted the technology to Sanger sequencing, the primary method of DNA sequencing. Sanger sequencing is currently expensive and requires a device about the size of a refrigerator.
The new Berkeley sequencer is the first lab-on-a-chip device that can carry out all of the many chemical steps needed to sequence DNA, including copying DNA fragments, purifying them, and adding fluorescent tags, and it does so at accuracy nearly the same as conventional machines. The breakthrough could drop costs from $22 million to $50,000 to sequence a genome.