Enabling the era of Personal DNA

 – This article was published in Biocoder on August 18th, 2016. Access the full article at O’Reilly Media.

Three years ago, we set out to make personal DNA tools that everyone could use. miniPCR started as a maker project, and after a design and prototyping phase, we launched the DNA Discovery System on Kickstarter in 2014. We exceeded our funding goal threefold, which enabled us to scale up production and mount distribution logistics. We have since built a team of biologists, designers, and engineers that operates out of the Harvard Innovation Launch Lab, a community of entrepreneurs and innovators on Harvard University’s dynamic Allston Campus. Manufacturing operations are located just outside of Boston, from where we’ve now shipped DNA Discovery Systems to hundreds of researchers, educators, and DNA curious individuals in every continent.

The miniPCR DNA Discovery System is a portable, personal DNA lab that anyone can use. It contains the fundamental tools of DNA analysis: a PCR thermal cycler, a gel electrophoresis apparatus with a built-in blue-light transilluminator, and a variable volume micropipette. It is portable, user friendly, operable through smartphones or computers, and is priced at $990. Its components are also available individually so users can build-to-fit their DNA labs. For example, lab-based researchers may need greater PCR capacity and educators may chose to start with the simpler techniques of DNA gel electrophoresis and visualization. Field-based users may opt to power miniPCR with rechargeable batteries, and couple it to downstream sequencers foregoing gel electrophoresis components. The miniPCR DNA Discovery System (pictured in Figure 1-1) is truly a modular ecosystem that can be configured to the user’s needs.

When we first shared our story with the Biocoder community (fall 2014 issue), we didn’t know the speed at which miniPCR and the field in general would move. We started miniPCR driven less by a specific goal than by sheer curiosity: what would the world look like if everyone had access to DNA science? What would people use miniPCR for? We were excited about enabling new possibilities, about what might happen if we removed barriers to experimentation, expanding channels for scientific innovation. Over the last three years, miniPCR has been in the hands of hundreds of new users. In this article, we share the stories of some of our inspiring users to illustrate the explosion of creativity and innovation that they are leading. There are many more stories that we’d like to share, but just won’t fit the page.

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