It might sound like something from Star Trek, but scientists have developed a tiny microscope that attaches to a mobile phone and can sequence DNA.

The phone’s camera helps spot fluorescent mutations in DNA samples that are associated with certain cancers, and produce images of the same quality as traditional microscopes.

The battery-powered phone attachment is constructed in a 3D printer and its inventors think it could be made for just $500 apiece if mass-produced – far less than the tens of thousands of dollars paid for lab microscopes.

Microsoft's Lumia 1020
Thought you’d seen the last of Microsoft’s Lumia 1020? You thought wrong (UCLA, Stockholm University and Uppsala University)

 

Collaborators from Sweden’s Stockholm and Uppsala universities and the University of California could detect a mutation that occurs in 30 per cent of colon cancers using the device.

In future, this technology could be used to diagnose patients almost instantly, rather than having to send samples off to laboratories.

Mats Nilsson, one of the authors, said: “It’s very important to have these molecular testing approaches at a doctor’s office or where care is being given”.

Researchers used the four-year-old Nokia Lumia 1020 phone and its powerful 40-megapixel camera, which suffered poor sales when it came out, but has now helped scientists do a wealth of good.

Read more: How your smartphone can look after your health - fitness and wellbeing apps