A thriving community of scientists use our portable and lab-based sequencing devices in a variety of environmental applications. These include plant and animal biodiversity, the analysis of ocean or glacial microbiomes to understand the impact of climate change, and the protection of wildlife. In the field, scientists can analyse samples at the point of origin. In the lab, larger projects – for example whole genome sequencing of critically endangered animals – can support conservation goals.
We continue to support these customers by developing devices, kits and analysis tools that aid their work and technical support to enable success, to collaborate to optimise their science, and to develop programmes that offer technology supplies in specific circumstances.
About Oxford Nanopore
Using MinION completely off grid on a polar icecap for greater climate change understanding
Glen Gowers and his team took nanopore sequencing "totally off-grid" when they transported MinION across Europe’s largest ice cap (Vatnajökull, Iceland) to study the microbial communities living there.
Their expedition enhanced understanding of the microbial composition of the polar environment and the role microbial ecosystems play in forcing anthropogenic climate change. They demonstrated "the ability to conduct DNA sequencing in remote locations, far from civilised resources (mechanised transport, external power supply, internet connection, etc.), whilst greatly reducing the time from sample collection to data acquisition". The desired affect is that it encourages further, much needed work in the area. The cryosphere makes up 14% of Earth’s surface and is thought to play a significant role in climate change and its mitigation, yet still relatively little is known about the microbial ecosystems that inhabit it.
Accessible sequencing in Ecuador for biodiversity conservation
‘Biodiversity hotspots' cover just 2.3% of Earth's surface yet, are home to 44% of the world's plant and 35% of land vertebrate species. Genetic sequencing is vital to the study and conservation of these areas. Until now, access to technology has been limited.
Zane Libke is working to solve this problem at the Sumak Kawsay in situ research station in the Ecuadorian Andes. Using the MinION and Flongle Flow Cells, Zane has been producing DNA barcodes for all 139 reptiles and amphibians native to the area. The Flongle drastically reduces the per-sample sequencing cost which is always a concern in conservation biodiversity research, without sacrificing sequence accuracy. This endeavour has already begun to reveal cryptic species, helping to better understand the connectivity between amphibian populations and protected areas, inform conservation strategies based on phylogenetic data, and accelerate new species descriptions. As biodiversity hotspots continue to become more threatened worldwide, he has shown that on-site, low-overhead nanopore sequencing can not only provide vital information for conservation.
"With field-based genetic sequencing courses, we’re also working to capacitate Ecuadorian researchers and students in field genomics, made possible by the MinION's low cost and accessibility. We hope to continue using the MinION to sequence any organism a researcher may desire - allowing curiosity to run free, creating field laboratories that teach us more about the threatened, delicate biodiversity of this unrivalled cloud-forest ecosystem, all while empowering local researchers."
Portable sequencing in New Zealand for bird conservation
The käkāpo, a flightless, ground-dwelling parrot, is currently critically endangered. Lara Urban, a Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Otago, applied nanopore sequencing technology to support the bird’s conservation efforts on the remote island of Whenua. The decision to use Oxford Nanopore devices was based on the in situ and real-time aspects that were key to Lara's work.
Portable, real-time nanopore sequencing technology has been fundamental to protecting the kākāpo. Beyond the ability to produce genomic data locally, the capacity to store that data locally as well adheres to ethical guidelines, as the indigenous Māori people have sovereignty over data associated with their "taonga" (treasured) species.
"Our goal is to actually establish the technology with stakeholders, such as local communities or conservationists, so that they can use it on their own in the future."
Everything Lara needs for her fieldwork fits into a single hiking backpack. Of this Lara said "if you have to send off your sample to get results then by the time you have those results, you will have lost significant amounts of your harvest. For us, it is further very important to empower local communities and researchers to use and benefit from genomic approaches on their own".