This historical perspective describes research on nano-scale pores initiated by Prof. David Deamer (UC Santa Cruz) and myself. Many researchers were stimulated by the early papers from Deamer’s and my laboratory showing that individual molecules of DNA could be detected and characterized as they were driven through a nanopore. This perspective shows how their work and our continued research led to three critical findings that made it possible to sequence an organism’s genome using a nanopore:
1) A simple routine to drive a genome’s deoxynucleotides through a nano-scale pore in precisely the same sequence as they occur in the organism’s chromosomes;
2) The discovery of protein nanopores in which the presence of each of the four naturally occurring deoxynucleotides modifies the pore’s ionic conductivity in a different and recognizable manner;
3) The development of methods to drive single strands of chromosomal DNA through a nanopore in single steps, each the length of a deoxynucleotide monomer.
These results from academic laboratories led a company, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, to license Harvard’s patents and develop commercially available nanopore sequencing devices. Their initial product, a pocket sized sequencer called a MinION, is already being used to characterized small genomes world-wide. It is the first sequencer light enough to have been carried into space, portable enough to have been used to characterize Ebola virus strains in east Africa, and affordable enough to be distributed into the hands of multiple freshman students in a laboratory course that will be taught this fall at Harvard.