Beneath the searing heat of a Namibian sun, tiny molecules of DNA are pulled through hundreds of holes on a chip. As they pass through, these molecules generate an electric current like minuscule flashes of lightning. Recording, transmitting and making sense of these imperceptible storms is a small team of scientists from the University of Oxford, who hope that this new form of DNA sequencing can make waves in the fight against the spread of malaria.
“Traditionally, DNA sequencing has needed large machines, which range from about the size of a fridge to a small car,” says Dr George Busby, Senior Research Scientist and Expedition Leader of the Mobile Malaria Project. “Nanopore sequencing technology is a new way of sequencing DNA that can be done on a small machine, about the size of a chocolate bar.”
Mobile Malaria took a team of three scientists in a Land Rover across 6,300 kilometres, crossing the vastly different landscapes and cultures of Namibia, Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya. Working with local scientists, research institutes and governments, the team explored how this new form of mobile DNA sequencing can be utilised in countries affected by malaria.