DNA Printing Evolves
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DNA printing is the essential component in synthetic biology, allowing scientists to acquire custom oligos (short, single-stranded DNA sequences) to develop PCR diagnostics (primers and probes), gene synthesis and editing technologies, and many other molecular biology and genomics applications.
But this is just a start. Synthetic DNA supports vaccine and therapy development, as well as data storage, bioremediation, clean meat production and bio-renewable petroleum alternatives, among a plethora of synthetic biology applications.
Until recently, synthetic DNA was made solely using a phosphoramidite chemistry process, which relies on highly trained chemists, tight environmental controls, toxic reagents and produces hazardous organic waste. The challenges associated with this technology created a synthetic DNA ecosystem in which labs outsourced their oligos from third-party vendors. In effect, laboratory workflows have learned to accommodate the timelines set by delivery schedules, which can limit productivity and slow innovation.
But a new technology, called enzymatic DNA synthesis (EDS), is beginning to shake up this market. Like PCR, CRISPR and other revolutionary biotechnologies, EDS follows nature’s template, in this case emulating how cells synthesize their own genetic material. As a result, the DNA writing process relies on enzymes and a water-based environment, making it a much cleaner, more environmentally friendly, sustainable process.
Equally important, EDS sets the stage for easy-to-use, safe and automated benchtop DNA printing instruments that could potentially meet all oligo needs in a lab, printing needed DNA on demand, in-house, with high fidelity and confidentiality.
Design-build-test-learn – and repeat
Being able to print DNA oligos in-house, either the same day or overnight, ready for use the next day, will be a huge advantage for academic labs, assay developers, biopharma, diagnostics companies and many others. Synthetic biology moves forward through constant iteration. Researchers design oligos, have them printed, insert them into cells, bacteria or yeast, and test the results. Each failed cycle teaches them something new, which they apply to the next iteration.
This design–build–test–learn cycle requires a steady supply of quality, custom-made DNA. However, once a lab has designed new oligos to test, and submitted those designs to an external vendor, they then must wait for them to be printed, shipped and finally delivered to the lab. This lag time creates a significant research bottleneck. In-lab EDS-based oligo production provides a turnaround time of less than a day, eliminating this bottleneck
The ability to print oligos in virtually any lab could have a tremendous ripple effect on research workflows. If a lab can write its own genetic material within 24 hours, it no longer needs to plan workflows around custom oligo deliveries. This could profoundly accelerate the iterative development process for research tools, diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutic antibodies.
Consider the advantages benchtop DNA printing brings in just one area: diagnostics development. COVID has taught the world how important these efforts can be. CLIA labs, such as LabCorp, and public health laboratories, such as the CDC, rely on synthetic DNA to rapidly develop and validate these tests. Accelerating the process means patients, physicians and public health officials have crucial information quickly during emerging outbreaks.
Likewise, in-house on-demand DNA synthesis will have a tremendous impact at critical junctures of drug development, computing, agriculture, and chemical and energy production to propel innovation and breakthroughs.
The EDS revolution is here
In June 2021, the world’s first benchtop enzymatic DNA printer was released. Since then, other industry players have announced they are incorporating EDS into their DNA manufacturing workflows.
This widespread movement towards enzymatic synthesis is an incredibly important milestone. Because EDS is a more sustainable, faster and time-saving technology, life sciences organizations can increase the amount of synthetic DNA they produce and use, and simultaneously reduce waste.
Sustainability will be an essential component of DNA data storage, which will require enormous amounts of synthetic genetic material. Because the anticipated growth in data storage requirements cannot be addressed by current resource-intensive technologies, nucleic acid-based systems hold the potential promise to store this information with radically reduced physical footprints, power and cost requirements. The eventual payoff will be huge: large, stable information repositories that require little energy to maintain.
EDS printing will accelerate synthetic biology research and expand clinical applications, including RNA vaccines and personalized medicine. In the not too distant future, clinicians will be able to use information from a patient’s own tumor to create personalized cancer treatments. In-house DNA printing will be a critical component to this process, ensuring patients receive these treatments in days or weeks, rather than months.
EDS solves several significant problems that have been facing synthetic biology for decades. And because it’s a much greener technology, it mitigates environmental issues. Moreover, its ease of use enables rapid, benchtop DNA printing for any size lab, bringing workflow control back to the hands of individual researchers. This, in turn, accelerates scientific iteration, investigation and innovation. EDS enables in-house, benchtop printing, offering a critical path forward for researchers who rely on synthetic DNA, providing a next generation, necessarily sustainable technology to keep pace with increasing demand across diverse existing and new markets.