June 26, 2018

Can you change the world with 100,000 bp of DNA? This company wants to help

Integrated DNA Technologies
An IDT team member in the lab. The company is offering free DNA synthesis to early-stage synthetic biology innovators who can use it to advance sustainable manufacturing, human health, or other humanitarian causes.

This story is brought to by Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), whose Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program supports socially minded innovation within the synthetic biology industry. Learn more about the contest and how to apply at the Integrated DNA Technologies Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program page.

What would you create with 100,000 free base pairs of DNA? That’s the question that Integrated DNA Technologies — better known simply as IDT — is asking synthetic biologists who are seeking to change the world for the better.

Through its Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program, IDT is offering free DNA synthesis to early-stage companies and business-minded academics who provide the most compelling use for it in the areas of sustainable manufacturing, human health, or humanitarian causes.

Last year’s winner was Joshua Yang of Helispot, which proposed developing stable enzymes and reagents for life-saving diagnostic assays in parts of the world that don’t have access to advanced molecular biology resources. (Read SynBioBeta’s interview with Joshua.)

                                          

Though the contest is only in its second year, IDT has been impressed with the quality and innovation in the submissions. “We see a lot of novel concepts,” said Bill Hazel, IDT’s Synthetic Biology Product Manager, “and I have no doubt some of these folks are going to make a major impact in the world.”

The Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program is part of a broader set of philanthropic programs intended to engage with synbio innovators, from students to entrepreneurs, trying to make a positive difference in the world. IDT’s philanthropic efforts include participation in iGEM, the international student competition for synthetic biology. For the past six years, IDT has supported iGEM by providing 20 kb of free DNA synthesis to each iGEM team. It is a continuation of Founder Dr. Joseph Walder’s longstanding commitment to education and science advocacy.

Integrated DNA Technologies

Students gather around the IDT Lounge at the 2017 iGEM Jamboree. IDT offers 20kb of free custom DNA to each iGEM team. Photo courtesy of iGEM.

“We know that DNA synthesis can be both the most important and most expensive components in an iGEM project,” said Hazel. “We value what the iGEM teams are doing, and we want them to focus more on advancing the science of their projects than on worrying about the underlying costs of development.”

In thinking about how to expand IDT’s working relationship with researchers in the synthetic biology community beyond iGEM, Hazel and others began wondering how IDT could help idealistic researchers from iGEM and elsewhere to realize some of their more mature projects and products in a commercial setting. And so the start-up grant program was born.

Just this February, IDT also announced the winners of its third annual IDT Sustainability Award, which provides funding for innovative academic research projects that promise to make a positive impact on biodiversity.

The magnificent Western Rattlesnake is one of many endangered species studied by Professor Marlis Douglas at University of Arkansas. Douglas was awarded one of IDT’s 2017 Sustainability Awards, advancing her work to apply genetic data to help minimize and reverse biodiversity loss. Photo by Heidi Rockey on YouTube.

In some sense, these give-back efforts are also a way to thank the research community that has shared its challenges and needs with IDT, so that it could continue to innovate new products at the cutting edge of synthetic biology. The grand prize of 100,000 bp of DNA, provided as gBlocks® Gene Fragments®, reflects the importance of IDT’s customer relationships.

“When we introduced gBlocks back in 2012, there was no other product like it,” Hazel says. Some labs in academia and industry were making gBlock-like segments for themselves, but no commercial option was available. “We listened carefully to customers and were able to provide a product that users needed,” he says.

IDT continues working closely with customers to anticipate their needs and remain on the cutting edge of innovation. The company suggests using gBlocks for antibody research, CRISPR-mediated genome editing, qPCR standards — the kinds of applications you would expect for short segments of DNA. Several iGEM teams share their out-of-the-box applications of gBlocks, such as targeting cancer treatments to cancer cells, using functional nucleic acids as antibody alternatives for small molecule detection, and even a project to engineer caffeine-addicted bacteria.

IDT was acquired by Danaher earlier this year, but the company’s commitment to education and innovation will remain unchanged, says Hazel. “We chose to partner with Danaher because its core values overlap with ours so well. IDT is still run by the same people, and the things IDT stood for will stay the same.”

Integrated DNA Technologies

Adam Clore, Technical Director of Synthetic Biology at IDT, speaks at SynBioBeta 2017. Photo by Garrett Kushner, SynBioBeta.

“We have a thirty-year track record of helping companies grow and responding to their technology needs,” Hazel says. “And staying on the cutting edge allows our customers to be on the cutting edge.”

The submission deadline for the grant competition is August 1. Details on how to apply and  competition criteria are at IDT’s Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program webpage. The winners will be announced this fall.

This story is brought to by Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), whose Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program supports socially minded innovation within the synthetic biology industry. Learn more about the contest and how to apply at the Integrated DNA Technologies Synthetic Biology Start-up Grant Program page.

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