Meet Synthetic DNA

Synthetic DNA allows us to modify an organism’s genome (its genetic material) in order to create new traits or adapt existing ones. Of course this doesn’t mean that the organism in question will suddenly sprout another arm (or head or what-have-you). Rather, the changes are often slight. Case in point, the creation of yeast that is able to produce nylon instead of alcohol.

Synthetic DNA is commonly used in the agriculture and pharmaceutical industries, and it’s also an important part of developing new biofuels. However the process is much more complex than simply cutting an organism’s DNA and inserting the new synthetic material. Experiments must be done with several different synthetics in order to see which gives the best results. Unfortunately synthetic DNA is very expensive, making the experiments very costly. Due to the high cost, the research of most DNA companies (and academic universities) is severely limited. But that may all be changing.

A New Era in Synthetic Biology

Twist Bioscience, a biotechnology company that specializes in DNA synthesis, just sold 100 million base pairs of its synthetic DNA to bioengineering company Ginkgo Bioworks. The number is equivalent to 10% of the global DNA synthesis capacity, making it the biggest partnership in the world of synthetic biology. This union is the result of great efforts from both companies. The two raised $100 million in capital to facilitate the sale, which will allow Twist to manufacture synthetic DNA on a larger scale for Gingko and allow Gingko to use its new vast raw materials in a plethora of bioengineering projects (such as modifying yeast to replicate the scent of a rose, as natural rose oil has been in increasingly short supply).

The two hope they will be able to accelerate the biotech industry with partnerships like this. Particularly, Twist’s goal is to drive down the cost of synthetic DNA to the extent that companies like Ginkgo are fully capable of rapid testing and prototyping at an affordable cost.


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