Smartphone Add-On Lets Researchers Study DNA

Smartphone Add-On Lets Researchers Study DNA

A simple attachment can turn any smartphone into an incredibly powerful microscope capable of viewing DNA molecules 50,000 times thinner than a human hair.

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have recently developed this device, which effectively transforms a phone into a DNA-scanning fluorescent microscope. The attachment is comprised of an external lens, thin-film interference filter, miniature dovetail stage mount for making fine alignments, and a laser diode. All this small parts are snugly enclosed within a 3D-printed case.

This isn't the first time that smartphones have been adapted to be used as microscopes. Other pieces of kit have rendered phones able to visualise cells. However, the UCLA group's device allows the user to image and size something much, much smaller - a single DNA molecule. 

So what's the point? The device has been designed for use in remote laboratory settings to diagnose serious diseases such as various cancers, neural disorders, and even drug resistance to infectious diseases. The device would scan a sample of DNA labelled with fluorescent tags and send that information to the UCLA lab over an internet connection for analysis. This process would be mediated via an app previously loaded onto the phone. 
Assuming you have a reliable data connection, the entire data processing takes less than 10 seconds.

Next, the research team plans to test their device remotely in the field to detect the presence of malaria-related drug resistance.

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