The UK biotech Camena Bioscience has proven it can synthesize long DNA molecules with more accuracy than traditional chemical synthesis.
Camena tested its technology’s ability to accurately synthesize DNA molecules with a length of 300 nucleotides — the building blocks of DNA. Using Camena’s technology, 85% of the synthesized DNA molecules were accurate to the sequence that the company wanted, whereas only 23% of molecules made by chemical synthesis, the current method, were accurate.
The traditional technique for synthesizing DNA involves chemically attaching individual nucleotides to a growing DNA molecule. Each nucleotide attachment isn’t quite 100% efficient, so errors build up in DNA molecules more than 200 nucleotides long. This makes it hard to provide long DNA sequences to customers in a reliable way.
Camena’s approach is designed to overcome the limitations of chemical synthesis by adding groups of three nucleotides to the DNA molecule at a time instead of one. This reduces the number of attachment steps needed, and therefore the amount of times errors can creep in.
DNA synthesis is a vital part of synthetic biology because it lets synthetic biologists ‘write’ new genes. Scientists can insert synthetic genes into microorganisms to develop more efficient ways to produce chemicals such as medicines and industrial enzymes via fermentation, or even store information in DNA directly. However, the accuracy problems with traditional synthetic techniques limit the scope of the applications.
“The synthetic biology market is rapidly expanding at the moment and the field is being described as possibly the next industrial revolution,” Camena’s CEO, Steve Harvey, told me. “However, we’re still at the beginning of this revolution and to support the field, it’s critical that we continue to build and develop synthetic biology hardware — the ability to read and write DNA.”
Camena is one of several companies aiming to make it easier to synthesize long molecules of DNA, such as the UK biotech Evonetix and the French company DNA Script. DNA Script is developing enzymes to synthesize DNA faster than chemical synthesis.
Unlike Camena, Evonetix and DNA Script add individual nucleotides to DNA molecules. One biotech adding groups of nucleotides as Camena does is the Austrian firm Ribbon Biolabs. This company combines an enzymatic approach with automation, and aims to produce DNA molecules that are 100,000 nucleotides long by 2020.
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