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April 10, 2007

DNA synthesis and synthetic biology about to Boom

From MIT Technology Review, DNA synthesis is about to have major impact because of price breakthroughs and growing capabilities. "In the next few years, we'll probably see people engineering cells to do drug delivery or creating cellular sensors," says George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard and one of Codon's founders. "Maybe even cells that make inorganic objects of interest, like nanostructures."

While DNA synthesis is still too expensive to replace more-traditional molecular-biology methods on a broad scale, experts say that the DNA-synthesis market is about to boom, much as the DNA-sequencing market has in the past few years. As sequencing costs plummeted, the number of sequencing projects surged, with record numbers of genomes--even entire microbial communities--being sequenced. "As large companies begin to adopt this technology, the volumes of DNA synthesis will explode," says John Danner, president and chief executive officer of Codon.

Last summer, the company created what it believes was the biggest piece of man-made DNA, a 35,000 base-pair strand incorporating several genes needed to synthesize a pharmaceutical compound.

Installing one of those prefab, snap-together wood-flooring kits is a lot easier than shaping and sanding rough planks. Adapting a similar construction strategy, a biotech startup called Codon Devices, based in Cambridge, MA, aims to streamline genetic engineering. It makes made-to-order DNA strands.

The company is planning to open an expanded production facility, which will operate much like any other mass-production facility, except its product will be DNA. Codon intends to build a facility, slated to open this summer, that's much larger than current needs warrant to prepare for the DNA-synthesis boom.

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