Earlier this month, Cambridge-based Evonetix were awarded “Best Emerging Synthetic Biology Company 2018” by OBN for their revolutionary new genetic toolkit. This award follows news of a partnership with LioniX International, a world-renowned provider of microfluidic scale-up solutions.
Synthetic Biology – Speaking the Language of Life
Synthetic Biology is an emerging sector with a seemingly unlimited potential for innovation across a variety of disciplines. It is, in essence, utilising the building blocks of nature to produce novel biological materials or systems that have useful features. The foundations of Synthetic Biology rest upon the ability to “read” (sequence) and “write” (synthesise) DNA. As the speed of sequencing shot up, the cost has dropped, unlocking the language of life on a huge scale. But there are still challenges to face. Our infancy in the genetic language is reflected by the error-strewn processes we rely on to read and write DNA. To compensate for this, we have time-consuming checkpoint procedures, the cost of development increasing with every corrected mistake.
Evonetix’s new technology aims to revolutionise the way in which DNA is synthesised. The new system utilises a microchip that can control temperature down to the single DNA strand level and, by manipulating the surrounding temperature, precisely control which DNA base is added next on the strand. This process allows DNA strands with different code to be produced side-by-side, as opposed to being physically separated, resulting in higher throughput synthesis. Once the DNA double strand is formed, the exquisitely precise temperature controls can be used to weed out any strands with mistakes, purifying those with the correct code. This streamlined process could significantly accelerate DNA synthesis and cut development costs
Countries who are highly invested in Synthetic Biology, such as the UK and the US, know that tools like Evonetix’s new technology will be essential to realise the potential of this emerging sector. The UK is the second biggest investor in Synthetic Biology research per capita in the world, with a total of £300m invested in the past decade alone. This investment is hoping to manifest itself as a market worth £10bn by 2030, but this is only possible if the excellent research is captured as novel technology – a feat that the UK is infamously bad at. The government recognises this shortfall and in response has set up a council of experts, known as the Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (SBLC). The exclusive aim of the SBLC is to translate research into tangible technologies and products. One of the five recommendations underpinning this is “maximising the capacity of the innovation pipeline”. The development of fast and affordable processes for DNA sequencing and synthesis will be fundamental in achieving this ambitious target.