With applications in pharmaceutical, chemical, and fuel companies, synthetic biology is a rapidly-growing area of scientific development working at the cutting edge of knowledge and innovation. Whether creating next-generation biofuels or industrial chemicals, synthetic biology relies on the design and construction of specifically designed genes and DNA fragments. The process of synthesizing DNA has developed rapidly over the last decade and now Gen9, a company dedicated to improving and enabling powerful synthetic biology techniques, has announced the next step in synthetic DNA synthesis.
Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Gen9 launched in 2009 focusing on high-quality and high-throughput automated DNA production.
Their academic founders, Professor Joseph Jacobson from MIT, Professor Drew Endy from Stanford, and Professor George Church from Harvard, developed a semiconductor-based platform which allowed for massively parallel construction of DNA. The current President and CEO, Kevin Munnelly, is committed to continually improving and developing this technology to enable the next generation of breakthroughs in synthetic biology.
The company uses a chip-based DNA synthesis system called BioFab® which bulk assembles inexpensively made small DNA fragments into larger lengths by patented chemical processes. The BioFab® technology can generate tens of thousands of synthetic gene fragments annually. It has evolved rapidly through the acquisition and development of further patented processes, including patents from Synthetic Genomics to increase efficient DNA synthesis at low error rates with reduced waste of reagents. The company now owns over 100 issued patents and pending patents for the rapid assembly and synthesis of DNA. Investors in the company include Agilent Technologies, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, PBM Capital Group and The Kraft Group.
While the BioFab® system already allows for fast and relatively inexpensive DNA synthesis, the company has just announced the development of a novel multiplex DNA assembly approach to increase manufacturing capacity at far lower costs. By applying this new technology Gen9 will be able to create 50 DNA constructs simultaneously in a single reaction. When fully implemented with the BioFab® system, the company aims to decrease synthesis costs to a fraction of a penny per base pair.
Increasing the speed and length of synthetically constructed genes has huge implications for industrial scale synthetic biology, particularly as the addition of multiplexing technology decreases costs as well as increasing manufacturing capacity. The synthesis of large numbers of genes in a parallel process will allow researchers in synthetic biology to bypass the time-consuming steps of gene construction and focus on design and implementation.
“Global DNA synthesis capacity is currently limited to hundreds of millions of base pairs of DNA per year. Gen9’s multiplex technology has the potential to scale that to billions of base pairs.” said Joseph Jacobson, co-founder of Gen9 and Associate Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“Our BioFab® platform makes manual, time-consuming PCR cloning methods for working with DNA obsolete. This enables scientists to get to their answers faster by designing, building and testing many sequences at once, rather than serially,” said Devin Leake, Vice President of research and development at Gen9. “And with the addition of multiplexing technology, we will open the doors for all sorts of new uses for DNA, from information storage to counterfeit prevention and data encryption.”
As part of their pioneering work increasing the speed and accuracy of DNA synthesis, Gen9 also encourages innovation in synthetic biology through the annual G-Prize contest. Conceived and sponsored exclusively by Gen9, the prize aims to foster creative and innovative uses for synthetically designed DNA. Previous prizes have been awarded for computational design of antibodies, computer-aided design of sensors and high-throughput discovery of new DNA recombination sites.
“The cost savings will eventually allow you to print a genome for $1000 and with this moon shot Gen9 is building a platform to get to that capacity.” Devin Leake told SynBioBeta. “We want to get to the stage where we are shipping hundreds of millions of base-pairs at a time. In the future the cost of preparing and shipping a gene is going to be way more than the DNA itself.”
Devin Leake will be speaking further at the SynBioBeta London 2016 to discuss Gen9’s work in developing technologies to facilitate and support continued innovation in synthetic biology. Gen9 are Gold sponsors of the conference, which brings together academics, industry workers, and venture capitalists to share and discuss best practices and novel developments in the world of synthetic biology.
Gen9’s ability to synthesize longer and cheaper high-throughput DNA strands is just one of the many innovations within the maturing market of synthetic biology. Twist Bioscience synthesizes DNA on silicon and has recently completed a series D financing with venture capitalist funding. SGI-DNA has developed a desktop DNA printer, allowing biotechnology companies and academic laboratories to create genes and molecular tools on the workbench. The genetic synthesis company GenScript has launched successfully on the stock-market with their fast and accurate DNA synthesis service. Thermo Fisher Scientific is also continuing to optimize and develop their gene synthesis processes and gene optimizer algorithms, to give synthetic biologists even more tools to design and produce the genes they need.