'DNA factory' opens at Imperial College London

The foundry will give a significant boost to the fledgling but rapidly-developing world of synthetic biology

Vials containing engineered DNA
Vials containing engineered DNA

The brave new world of synthetic biology has taken a major step forward as the UK opened a new DNA factory – manufacturing genetic components that will be used to tackle everything from global warming to vaccines.

Synthetically creating the right DNA formula – for example to artificially produce penicillin – is an extremely laborious process when done manually, as scientists painstakingly try out numerous combinations of genes from various organisms before finding the combination that works.

But the opening of the £2 million Foundry at Imperial College London should speed up the process immensely through a new automated lab that can run thousands of experiments simultaneously.

This should help identify the winning combination of genes needed for a given task between 10 and 100 times as quickly as a human scientist would using the traditional apparatus of pipettes and Petri dishes.

The foundry will give a significant boost to the fledgling but rapidly-developing world of synthetic biology in which microbes such as bacteria, viruses and funghi – or larger organisms – are genetically manipulated for a wide range of functions such as generating energy and creating drugs to fight disease.

“This is a step change in our ability to design and build new genetic components which we can then put into cells – which then act as little microbial factories producing a variety of chemicals,” said Professor Paul Freemont, head of molecular biosciences at Imperial College.

The genes contained in DNA act as an instruction manual telling the cells how to make the various proteins needed to build a body.

Synthetic biology works by mixing and matching genes from different microbes and injecting the resulting DNA into simple, harmless cells, such as yeast cells.

“DNA is a natural instruction telling the cell to do something. But in synthetic biology we can design sections of DNA which do not exist in Nature,” said Professor Richard Kitney, also of Imperial College. “When you put those into the cell it does something you want it to do rather than what it would do naturally. Things like producing chemicals or new types of drugs or vaccines,” he added.

The Government has welcomed the Foundry after identifying synthetic biology of one of the eight ‘great technologies’ in which it believes the UK can excel.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in