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Affordable 'CSI': Detect Ebola, cancer genes at home

A Kickstarter campaign aims to bring the tools of DNA analysis to biohackers and researchers without access to expensive lab equipment.

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Now you play 'CSI' at home, too. Chai Biotechnologies

Meet Open qPCR, a little machine that can detect viruses like HIV or Ebola, identify dolphin meat in a can of tuna, help evaluate your risk of breast cancer and even help you breed the world's cutest pug to conquer your social network.

Medical instruments that do what Open qPCR can -- genetic genotyping, pathogen detection and relative DNA quantification -- aren't exactly brand new technology. They've been the underlying props on TV crime investigation dramas for years now. This is the first time, however, a real-time PCR thermal cycler -- what you call a machine like the Open qPCR that looks at DNA and converts it to data to be analyzed -- has been open-sourced and offered on Kickstarter for a fraction of what you'd pay a medical supplier.

"With real-rime PCR thermocyclers typically costing $20,000 and up, this technology was simply unaffordable to lesser funded university labs, institutes in developing countries dealing with emerging epidemics, and the growing DIYbio/maker movement," said Josh Perfetto, founder and chief executive of Chai Biotechnologies, the startup behind the machine, in a statement. "With Open qPCR, we've lowered the cost of the real-time PCR reaction by an order of magnitude."

To be clear, the DIYbio/maker movement that Perfetto's company targets isn't just about urban athletes looking at their DNA to figure out how they might perform better parkour, although that is part of it. It's a broad umbrella that can include things like creating algae that converts into better biofuels, more effective medications and yes, even cuter pets.

In the week since launching its Kickstarter campaign for Open qPCR, it has already more than doubled its $50,000 goal, and there are still 24 days to go. Chai Biotechnologies is offering the device to backers for as little as $1299, with an estimated delivery date of March 2015.

Over the weekend, Chai Biotechnologies announced a new stretch goal for the campaign. If it raises $200,000, the company plans to use some of the funds to create a public, open database of tests that can be performed and interpreted by the Open qPCR. Right now, the company advises you to essentially search the Internet for published papers that might help you through the testing process. The new database would make research using the Open qPCR much more user-friendly, the company believes.

If the idea of performing your own DNA analysis, even with affordable equipment and an online database to help you through it, makes your eyes gloss over, the Kickstarter campaign also includes support levels that go towards donating Open qPCR machines to clinics and organizations working to fight the spread of the Ebola virus in western Africa.

Check out the whole pitch video for Open qPCR below: