DNA factories

DNA factories

According to an April 9, 2007, article in Technology Review, cheap custom DNA manufacturing could revolutionize molecular biology.

Installing a precast wood flooring kit is much easier than having to cut and sand the wood. To do this, it manufactures custom DNA strands, saving scientists the work of having to put together complicated pieces of DNA the old-fashioned way.

As it becomes cheaper and cheaper to create large chunks of genetic material from scratch, scientists will be able to come up with increasingly complex biological creations.

Codon was founded in 2005, parallel to the emergence of the field of synthetic biology. The ability to make complex genetic constructs is critical in this field, allowing scientists to use pieces of DNA to design new biological parts that can later be inserted into bacteria or other cells.

Last summer, the company created for Microbia, another cambridge biotech company, what is considered the largest chunk of custom-made DNA - a 35,000-base pair strand that incorporates various genes needed to synthesize a pharmaceutical compound.

Biologists in this field are excited about the prospects, but expect a drop in prices that will allow them to afford the experiments they want to run. For his part, Codon is confident that the day will come soon and plans to use his enhanced synthesis capabilities to find better enzymes for industrial processes.

Since nature does not always provide the best, scientists often design more efficient enzymes by modifying the DNA code used to make them. However, it is difficult to predict what changes the best enzymes will produce. Codon is using its synthesis technology to carry out this process en masse; in this way, it makes millions of copies of the same genetic construct with slight variations and then tests them to see which of them does the best job. The same process could be used to develop more effective protein-based drugs.

Codon plans to open a production factory this summer that will function like any other mass production factory, but its product will be DNA. The idea is to build a facility much larger than currently needed in order to prepare for the future boom in DNA synthesis.

Source: Technology Review

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