App analyzes coronavirus genome on a smartphone

App analyzes coronavirus genome on a smartphone
The app Genopo makes genomics more accessible to remote or under-resourced regions. Credit: Dr Ira Deveson

A new mobile app has made it possible to analyze the genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on a smartphone in less than half an hour.

Cutting-edge nanopore devices have enabled scientists to read or ‘sequence’ the genetic material in a biological sample outside a laboratory, however analyzing the raw data has still required access to high-end computing power—until now.

The app Genopo, developed by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, in collaboration with the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka, makes genomics more accessible to remote or under-resourced regions, as well as the hospital bedside.

“Not everyone has access to the high-power computing resources that are required for DNA and RNA analysis, but most people have access to a smartphone,” says co-senior author Dr. Ira Deveson, who heads the Genomic Technologies Group at Garvan’s Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics.

“Fast, real-time genomic analysis is more crucial today than ever, as a central method for tracking the spread of coronavirus. Our app makes genomic analysis more accessible, literally placing the technology into the pockets of scientists around the world.”

The researchers report the app Genopo in the journal Communications Biology.

Taking genome analysis off-line

Genomic sequencing no longer requires a sophisticated lab setup.

At the size of a USB stick, portable devices such as the Oxford Nanopore Technologies MinION sequencer can rapidly generate genomic sequences from a sample in the field or the clinic. The technology has been used for Ebola surveillance in West Africa, to profile microbial communities in the Arctic and determine coronavirus evolution during the current pandemic.

However, analyzing genome sequencing data requires powerful computation. Scientists need to piece the many strings of genetic letters from the raw data into a