Synthetic Genomics Chris Wilson, Eric Hesek, Matthew Weinstock, and Dan Gibson from Synthetic Genomics.
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Exit E. coli. Enter ‘Vmax’

Synthetic Genomics announces a ‘next-generation host organism’ that will ‘drastically improve’ current methods

A new host organism called “Vmax” is about to push E. coli to the scientific sidelines.

So says Synthetic Genomics Inc., which announced its next-generation biotechnology host this morning.

E. coli has been the go-to bacterial host for decades, but that’s only because scientists have had no alternatives, says Todd Peterson, SGI Chief Technology Officer. An extensively reengineered form of the Vibrio natriegens bacterium, Vmax will “drastically improve” methods used in such common biotech applications as recombinant protein expression and molecular cloning, he says.

Most importantly, it will be faster. With a doubling time that’s less than ten minutes. V. natriegens grows more quickly than any other known organism in the world. Engineered as Vmax, the organism reduces to as little as one day recombinant and molecular cloning projects that typically take several days when using E. coli, the company says.

Calling the new organism for protein production a “game-changing alternative to E. coli,” Daniel Gibson, SGI Vice President for DNA Technologies, says the company is “designing and synthesizing cells that operate at even higher efficiencies and productivity.”

A paper written by the team that developed Vmax is the “first peer-reviewed publication of its kind,” the company says. Written by Gibson with Matthew T. Weinstock, Eric D. Hesek, Christopher M. Wilson, it was published online this morning by Nature Methods.

SGI gave no timetable for making its new cells available, saying only that the organism — which will be compatible with most kits, reagents, growth medium, vectors and procedures already used by laboratories — will be commercialized in “coming months.”

The authors describe in their paper a process of “genome minimization” that “has the potential to advance the understanding of life at its most basic level.”

Applying their new minimization and modularization methods to five V. natriegens strains, the team removed unnecessary regions representing 3.5 percent of its genome. This streamlining improved the integrity of isolated plasmid DNA and altered the genome’s methylation profile, they say.

Such tweaking makes V. natriegens an even better candidate chassis for genome redesign “owing to the drastically reduced time required to proceed through a design-build-test cycle and its potential commercial applications,” they note.

Based in La Jolla, CA, SGI created the first synthetic cell and the first minimal cell, projects on which Gibson worked with J. Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith.

Gibson says the development of Vmax is built directly on these breakthroughs, noting that, over the last two decades, “our teams have been developing toolsets for whole genome design, synthesis and assembly, installation, and engineering with the ultimate goal of rationally designing and building dedicated production cells from the bottom up.”

“The creation of the first synthetic cell and the first minimal cell have been critical for establishing our synthetic genomics toolsets and genome design principles as we begin to learn how to build cellular life from first principles,” he adds. “At SGI over the past two years, we have been applying this knowledge to a more evolved microbe that already exists in nature to generate Vmax, a next-generation host for molecular biology and biotechnology applications.”  

The leading inventor of Gibson Assembly Cloning, which has revolutionized the field of synthetic biology by enabling the assembly of very long DNA constructs, Gibson will be the keynote speaker at SynBioBeta’s upcoming conference in at the South San Francisco Conference Center. Since its invention, Gibson Assembly has been commercialized and pervaded the world of synthetic biology far beyond SGI and the J. Craig Venter Institute, with which Gibson is also affiliated. The technique has enabled applications and achievements beyond the scope of what was previously thought possible.

SGI-DNA, a wholly owned SGI subsidiary, is responsible for all commercial aspects of SGI’s synthetic DNA and research products business. It offers a suite of genomic services, including whole genome sequencing, library design, bioinformatics, cell engineering and plasmid DNA services.

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Dan Forbush

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