Medcal treatments will take a quantum leap forward once we can develop drugs that are genetically tailored to a specific individual. But to do that, we need a way to sequence someone's DNA quickly and cheaply. Today, it takes months and costs six figures. Pacific Biosciences' Single-Molecule, Real-Time (SMRT) DNA sequencer is going to change that.DNA sequencing is slow and takes a lot of computational power. To put it into Homer Simpson terms, the DNA is replicated, torn into little pieces, sorted out and analyzed bit by bit, then reassembled by a computer. The SMRT sequencer improves on the process because it "watches" the DNA as it is being replicated by the polymerase, reading each piece of DNA in something called the Zero-Mode Waveguide. The ZMW is a "nanophotonic visualization chamber" made by making a hole just a few tens of nanometers across in a metal film just 100 nanometers thick. Chemicals introduced into the reaction give off tiny flashes of colored light, which are detected by the highly parallel optics system (pictured). The CCD can detect the lights, and computers use that information to figure out which base pairs are in which ZMW window, decoding long strands of DNA in real-time. You could be running down to the DNA-Mart for a quick DNA scan as soon as 2013. Image by: Pacific Biosciences. Long Reads, Short Run Time, and High Quality Data at Lower Cost. [Pacific Biosciences]
I think that SMRT line is my most used Simpson quote ever... next to Maggie's purple dinosaur cartoon ("Barney") singing "2+2 is 4" repeatedly.
(What does this say about io9 commenters? Seeing how we're more reactionary to Simpsons quotes rather than technological advances in research... and stuff?)