When we think of DNA, it is hard to imagine everything the building blocks of life are capable of creating. Now scientists are starting to push the limits of what’s possible. From food to medicine, synthetic biology depends on accurate and reliable DNA synthesis to make multiple products. DNA is such a vital part of many technologies that it has created a billion-dollar DNA synthesis industry.
Now, Molecular Assemblies, a San Diego-based company that pioneered enzymatic DNA synthesis, has received $24 million in Series A funding to explore the possibilities. The company plans to make commercial access easier to its technology that makes synthesizing DNA faster, cheaper, and more accurate.
“The Series A financing will support our move to commercialization,” says Mike Kamdar, president and CEO of Molecular Assemblies. “We intend to start a key customer program at the end of the year to begin putting our DNA in customers’ hands to get their first-hand experience.”
The Power of Enzymatic DNA Synthesis
Synthetic DNA appears in many applications, including life science research, biologic therapeutics and diagnostics, data storage, nanotechnology, and agriculture. From cancer drugs to tastier cell-based meat, synthetic DNA plays a crucial role in many manufacturing processes.
By using enzymes to make DNA, Molecular Assemblies is transforming an inefficient 30-year-old chemical process into a cleaner, greener, and better process. The old chemical method is inherently limited to short DNA strands that need extensive post-processing to make pure, long strands. Since the process was developed in the 1980s, it has limited the potential uses of DNA synthesis in multiple industries.
“Our scientists have pioneered a novel, two-step enzymatic DNA synthesis method,” says Kamdar. Molecular Assemblies’ enzymatic synthesis method uses aqueous (non-toxic) reagents, requires minimal post-synthesis purification and processing, and can scale to longer, higher quality, sequence-specific DNA. Molecular Assemblies and Codexis, a protein engineering company, are working together to engineer and optimize the enzymes involved. Codexis is also one of the investors in this Series A funding. Together, the companies want to increase the commercialization of enzymatic DNA synthesis.
Making DNA Into an Ink
What if we could make DNA into an ink and put it inside a printer? This is the type of technology that Molecular Assemblies is working on through a partnership with GE Research. The goal is to make DNA ink that can be used for genomics printers to create nucleic acid-based vaccines like mRNA vaccines and other types of therapeutics.
“We use a clean synthesis process to make the DNA ink for any genomics printer, capable of being deployed anywhere in the world because we do not use hazardous chemicals to synthesize DNA. The DNA would not need to be stitched together to form the end product,” says Kamdar.
Molecular Assemblies and GE Research are working on a project that is part of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program called Nucleic Acids On-Demand Worldwide (NOW). Ultimately, the researchers want to make an automated, mobile platform that can generate vaccines anywhere and at any time.
Considering the current COVID-19 pandemic and predictions about future pandemics, this type of technology is a necessity around the world. Having a mobile, medical manufacturing platform would make producing and packaging DNA- or RNA-based vaccines faster. Molecular Assemblies can produce long, high-quality DNA, which could then be converted to RNA, and optimized for biomedical applications.
Molecular Assemblies’ DNA synthesis technology provides an important tool for the DARPA project. Since the DNA is made with non-toxic reagents and requires less purification and processing, it can be used faster to make a vaccine or therapeutic.
The Future of DNA
Molecular Assemblies believes that DNA has the potential to become the polymer of the 21st century. If you consider the transformation that plastic polymers created in the previous century, it is possible to envision what could happen if DNA took over as the building block for our industries.
“DNA is part of every living thing, and the ability to create DNA on demand has specifically driven the biomedical revolution we have today. But the current DNA synthesis method is inherently limited by length, purity, and the use of toxic chemicals. By “greening” DNA synthesis and delivering an even better end product, the potential is endless,” says Kamdar.
Building our material world with synthetic biology could make products cheaper and better. The applications could extend well beyond current industries, such as personalized medicine or cancer research, to new areas. For example, DNA could be used for data storage, nanomachines, or bio-based electronics.
By harnessing the powerful potential of DNA synthesis, multiple industries could be transformed, including synthetic biology. The revolutionary technology can make DNA more affordable and accessible.
Thank you to Lana Bandoim for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest.
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