Writing DNA is poised to explode
For years, DNA has played an important role in mainstream media, holding audiences captive with the perfect whodunnit twist to crime mysteries (no, it’s not the butler). A scientist, however, will have you know that there is a lot more to DNA than meets the eye. DNA strands hold a tremendous amount of information, with segments of hereditary traits that make us who we are — also known as genes.
Genes can be made from scratch, a process known as DNA synthesis. It has been around for decades, but has always been lagging, ranging from weeks to months, and subject to human errors. All this is about to change with the new darling of synthetic biology in Silicon Valley: Twist Bioscience, the first company to automate and commercialize synthetic DNA production.
Whereas labs traditionally synthesize DNA with a 96-well plate the size of two iPhones, Twist has developed a silicon wafer that is both smaller and significantly thinner (see image above). And whereas the 96-well plate produces one gene, the silicon wafer produces 9,600 genes. The corollary? DNA synthesis just became faster and nearly 10,000 times cheaper.
So why make DNA from scratch? Synthetic DNA has been around for more than 40 years. It is used to create novel antibiotics, vaccines and antibodies, as well as to modify plants for increased yields, pest resistance and drought tolerance. However, the time and costs associated with traditional DNA synthesis made it difficult to scale this process, hampering growth in this market. By automating and scaling the process, Twist is able to eliminate this bottleneck, timing it perfectly with the recent explosion of gene-editing, which has spurred demand for synthetic DNA.
The benefits of synthetic DNA span an array of industries, from agriculture (e.g. self-fertilizing crops), nutrition and health (e.g. precision medicine) to sustainability (e.g. biofactories), data storage (e.g. Microsoft storing data in Twist’s synthetic DNA) and more. To learn more about the enormous potential of bespoke DNA, watch as Emily Leproust, CEO of Twist Bioscience, explains how synthetic DNA lends itself to solving major challenges in different industries.
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