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Sequencing at the Scene

The speedy and small MinIon sequencer from Oxford Nanopore Technologies has been allowing researchers and epidemiologists to trace how Ebola has spread through communities in Guinea, Ed Yong reports at The Atlantic.

The University of Birmingham's Nick Loman, he writes, was among the first to receive a MinIon through the company's early-access program. It "surpassed all my expectations," as Loman told GenomeWeb's Julia Karow in June 2014. He and his lab soon began thinking about taking the sequencer directly to outbreak epicenters.

As Karow then reported this past June, Loman's team and another from the Rocky Mountain Laboratories of the US National Institutes of Health have taken the MinIon to West Africa to study the Ebola outbreak. Loman's group was able to construct Ebola virus lineages and trace their sources based on their genomes.

"I saw, first-hand, epidemiologists being able to accurately track transmission routes in real time and then intercept the chain to prevent further transmission of the virus," Lauren Cowley tells Yong at The Atlantic.

Though the researchers ran into some problems with uncertain sources of electricity as well as humidity and insects affecting their other tools and reagents, Loman tells Yong that such portable sequencing labs are a sign of what's ahead.

"When it's a doddle to have sequencing anywhere you are, whether it's an a sewage works, or a doctor's surgery, or a hospital ... and when you can detect links between patients, or between patients and the environment ... and when you can get other information about pathogens like antibiotic resistance ... if you can do all that in one cheap, available assay, that's clearly going to be the future," Loman adds.