Researchers rewire the genetics of E. coli, make it virus-proof

Image of a woman holding bacterial plates.

Enlarge / On the outside, these heavily engineered bacteria look no different from their normal peers. (credit: Raphael Gaillarde / Getty Images)

Many of the fundamental features of life don’t necessarily have to be the way they are. Chance plays a major role in evolution, and there are alternate paths that were never explored, simply because whatever evolved previously happened to be good enough. One instance is the genetic code, which converts the information carried by our DNA into the specific sequence of amino acids that form proteins. There are scores of potential amino acids, many of which can form spontaneously. But most life uses a genetic code that relies on just 20 of them.

Over the past couple of decades, researchers have shown that it doesn’t have to be that way. If you supply bacteria with the right enzyme and an alternative amino acid, they can use it. But bacteria won’t use the enzyme and amino acid very efficiently, as all the existing genetic code slots are already in use.

Now, researchers have managed to edit bacteria’s genetic code to free up a few new slots. They then filled those slots with unnatural amino acids, allowing the bacteria to produce proteins that would never be found in nature. One side effect of the reprogramming? No viruses could replicate in the modified bacteria.

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#amino-acids, #biology, #genetic-code, #genetic-engineering, #genetics, #science, #synthetic-biology

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Scientists create new class of “Turing patterns” in colonies of E. coli

Scientists have shown how a new class of Turing patterns work by using synthetic biology to create them from scratch in the lab.

Shortly before his death, Alan Turing published a provocative paper outlining his theory for how complex, irregular patterns emerge in nature—his version of how the leopard got its spots. These so-called Turing patterns have been observed in physics and chemistry, and there is growing evidence that they also occur in biological systems. Now a team of Spanish scientists has managed to tweak E. coli in the laboratory so that the colonies exhibit branching Turing patterns, according to a recent paper published in the journal Synthetic Biology.

“By using synthetic biology, we have a unique opportunity to interrogate biological structures and their generative potential,” said co-author Ricard Solé of Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, who is also an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute. “Are the observed mechanisms found in nature to create patterns the only solutions to generate them, or are there alternatives?” (Synthetic biology typically involves stitching together stretches of DNA—which can be found in other organisms, and be entirely novel—and inserting into an organism’s genome.)

In synthetic biology, scientists typically stitch together long stretches of DNA and insert them into an organism’s genome. These synthesized pieces of DNA could be genes that are found in other organisms or they could be entirely novel.

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#biochemistry, #biophysics, #e-coli, #physics, #science, #symmetry-breaking, #synthetic-biology, #turing-patterns

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Kombucha tea inspires new “living material” for biosensing applications

Brewing kombucha tea. Note the trademark gel-like layer of SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).

Enlarge / Brewing kombucha tea. Note the trademark gel-like layer of SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). (credit: Olga Pankova/Getty Images)

Kombucha tea is all the rage these days as a handy substitute for alcoholic beverages and for its supposed health benefits. The chemistry behind this popular fermented beverage is also inspiring scientists at MIT and Imperial College London to create new kinds of tough “living materials” that could one day be used as biosensors, helping purify water or detect damage to “smart” packing materials, according to a recent paper published in Nature Materials.

You only need three basic ingredients to make kombucha. Just combine tea and sugar with a kombucha culture known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), aka the “mother,” also known as a tea mushroom, tea fungus, or a Manchurian mushroom. (It’s believed that kombucha tea originated in Manchuria, China, or possibly Russia.) It’s basically akin to a sourdough starter. A SCOBY is a firm, gel-like collection of cellulose fiber (biofilm), courtesy of the active bacteria in the culture, creating the perfect breeding ground for the yeast and bacteria to flourish. Dissolve the sugar in non-chlorinated boiling water, then steep some tea leaves of your choice in the hot sugar water before discarding them.

Once the tea cools, add the SCOBY and pour the whole thing into a sterilized beaker or jar. Then cover the beaker or jar with a paper towel or cheesecloth to keep out insects, let it sit for two to three weeks, and voila! You’ve got your own home-brewed kombucha. A new “daughter” SCOBY will be floating right at the top of the liquid (technically known in this form as a pellicle). But be forewarned: it’s important to avoid contamination during preparation because drinking tainted kombucha can have serious, even fatal, adverse effects. And despite claims that drinking kombucha tea can treat aging, arthritis, cancer, constipation, diabetes, or even AIDS, to date there is no solid scientific evidence to back those claims.

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#biomaterials, #chemistry, #kombucha, #materials-science, #science, #scoby, #synthetic-biology

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Forsaking funding at a $1 billion valuation, Solugen preps a new green chemical product and a big 2021

Late last year, Solugen, a startup using synthetic biology to take hydrocarbons out of the chemicals industry, decided against pursuing a new round of funding that would have valued the company at over $1 billion, TechCrunch has learned.

Instead, the Houston-based bio-manufacturing company raised an internal round of roughly $30 million from existing investors and continued working on its latest project — a new bio-based manufacturing process for a high-value specialty chemical that can act as an anti-corrosive agent.

That work represents a potentially lucrative new product line for the company and charts a course for a host of other businesses that are refashioning the basic building blocks of life in an attempt to supplant chemistry with biology for manufacturing and production.

If Solugen can get its high value chemical into commercial production, the company can follow the path that sustainable tech companies like Tesla have mastered — moving from a pricy specialty product into the mass market. And rather than over-promise and underdeliver. Solugen wanted to get the product line right first before raising big bucks, according to people familiar with the company’s thinking.

As the world looks to move away from oil and its byproducts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down or reverse global climate change, the chemicals industry is in the crosshairs as a huge target for disruption. Vehicle electrification solves only one part of the oil problem. The extractive industry doesn’t just produce fuel, but also the chemicals that make up most of the products that defined consumer goods in the twentieth century.

Chemicals are everywhere and they’re a huge business.

Companies like Zymergen raised hundreds of millions of dollars last year to develop industrial applications for synthetic biology, and they’re not alone. Startups including Geltor, Impossible Foods, Ginkgo Bioworks, Lygos, Novomer, and Perfect Day have all raised significant amounts of capital to reduce the environmental footprint of food, chemicals, ingredients, and plastics through synthetic biology.

Some of these companies are seeing early success in food replacements and ingredients, but the promise of biologically based chemicals have been elusive — until now.

Solugen’s new product will produce glucaric acid, a tough-to-make chemical that can be used in water treatment facilities and as an anti-corrosive agent — and the company can make it with a zero carbon (or potentially carbon negative) manufacturing process, according to Solugen co-founder and chief technology officer, Sean Hunt.

The glucaric acid from Solugen is cheaper to produce and more environmentally friendly than existing phsophonates that are used for water treatment — and the company has the benefit of competing against chemicals manufacturers in China.

Given the continuing tensions between the two countries, the U.S. is looking to make more high value products — including chemicals — domestically, and Solugen’s technology is a good way forward to have home grown supplies of critical materials.

Solugen still intends to raise more capital, the company just wanted to wait until its latest production plant for the acid came online, according to Hunt.

It’s also the fruit of years of planning. The two co-founders, Hunt and Gaurab Chakrabarti first realized they could potentially use the technology they’d developed to make specialty chemicals back n 2017, according to Hunt. But first the company had to make the hydrogen peroxide as a precursor chemical, Hunt said.

“It’s advantageous for us to focus on this,” said Hunt. “As we scale, we can enter more commodity type markets down the road.”

It’s all part of the significant strides the entire industry is making, said Hunt. “Synthetic biology has really made significant strides,” he said. “We have our commercial plant coming online this summer [and it proves] synthetic biology has gotten to the point where we can compete on price and performance.”

So the capital infusion will come as the company gets closer to the completion of these commercial scale facilities.

“It’s not like we were sitting on a term sheet and we said no,” Hunt said. “We want to make sure that we are hitting the milestones and the goals at a commensurate pace which is this year. I’m extremely bullish and optimistic of 2021.”

Solugen’s co-founder sees the path that his company is on as one that other startups working in the synthetic biology space will pursue to bring profitable products to market at the higher end before competing with more sustainable versions of commodity chemicals.

“How do you start a company that has this level of capital intensity?” Hunt asked. “You can start in the fine chemicals space where everything sells for tens to hundreds of dollars per pound. For us, glucaric acid is that specialty chemical and then we will do commodity.”

#articles, #chemicals, #china, #co-founder, #food, #geltor, #ginkgo-bioworks, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #houston, #impossible-foods, #lygos, #manufacturing, #oil, #perfect-day, #plastics, #solugen, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #united-states

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Senti Bio raises $105 million for its new programmable biology platform and cancer therapies

Senti Biosciences, a company developing cancer therapies using a new programmable biology platform, said it has raised $105 million in a new round of financing led by the venture arm of life sciences giant, Bayer.

The company’s technology uses new computational biological techniques to manufacture cell and gene therapies that can more precisely target specific cells in the body.

Senti Bio’s chief executive, Tim Lu, compares his company’s new tech to the difference between basic programming and object oriented programming. “Instead of creating a program that just says ‘Hello world’, you can introduce ‘if’ statements and object oriented programming,” said Lu.

By building genetic material that can target multiple receptors, Senti Bio’s therapies can be more precise in the way they identify genetic material in the body and deliver the kinds of therapies directly to the pathogens. “”Instead of the cell expressing a single receptor… now we have two receptors,” he said.

The company is initially applying its gene circuit technology platform to develop therapies that use what are called chimeric antigen receptor natural killer (CAR-NK) cells that can target cancer cells in the body and eliminate them. Many existing cell and gene therapies use chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, which are white blood cells in the body that are critical to immune response and destroy cellular pathogens in the body.

However, T-cell-based therapies can be toxic to patients, stimulating immune responses that can be almost as dangerous as the pathogens themselves. Using CAR-NK cells produces similar results with fewer side effects.
That’s independent of the gene circuit,” said Lu. “The gene circuit gets you specificity… Right now when you use a CAR-T cell or a CAR-NK cell… you find a target and hope that it doesn’t affect normal cells. We can build logic in our gene circuits in the cell that means a CAR-NK cell can identify two targets rather than one.”

That increased targeting means lower risks of healthy cells being destroyed alongside mutations or pathogens that are in the body.

For Lu and his co-founders — fellow MIT professor Jim Collins, Boston University professor, Wilson Wong, and longtime synthetic biology operator, Phillip Lee — Senti Bio is the culmination of decades of work in the field.

“I compare it to the early days of semiconductor work,” Lu said of the journey to develop this gene circuit technology. “There were bits and pieces of technology being developed in research labs, but to realize the scale at which you need, this has to be done at the industrial level.”

So licensing work from MIT, Boston University and Stanford, Lu and his co-founders set out to take this work out of the labs to start a company.

When the company was started it was a bag of tools and the know-how on how to use them,” Lu said. But it wasn’t a fully developed platform. 

That’s what the company now has and with the new capital from Leaps by Bayer and its other investors, Senti is ready to start commercializing.

The first products will be therapies for acute myeloid leukemia, hepatocellular carcinoma, and other, undisclosed, solid tumor targets, the company said in a statement.

“Leaps by Bayer’s mission is to invest in breakthrough technologies that may transform the lives of millions of patients for the better,” said Juergen Eckhardt, MD, Head of Leaps by Bayer. “We believe that synthetic biology will become an important pillar in next-generation cell and gene therapy, and that Senti Bio’s leadership in designing and optimizing biological circuits fits precisely with our ambition to prevent and cure cancer and to regenerate lost tissue function.”

Lu and his co-founders also see their work as a platform for developing other cell therapies for other diseases and applications — and intend to partner with other pharmaceutical companies to bring those products to market.  

“Over the past two years, our team has designed, built and tested thousands of sophisticated gene circuits to drive a robust product pipeline, focused initially on allogeneic CAR-NK cell therapies for difficult-to-treat liquid and solid tumor indications,” Lu said in a statement. “I look forward to continued platform and pipeline advancements, including starting IND-enabling studies in 2021.”

The new financing round brings Senti’s total capital raised to just under $160 million and Lu said the new money will be used to ramp up manufacturing and accelerate its work partnering with other pharmaceutical companies.

The current timeframe is to get its investigational new drug permits filed by late 2022 and early 2023 and have initial clinical trials begun in 2023.

Developing gene circuits is new and expanding field with a number of players including Cell Design Labs, which was acquired by Gilead in 2017 for up to $567 million. Other companies working on similar therapies include CRISPR Therapeutics, Intellius, and Editas, Lu said.

#bayer, #biology, #biotechnology, #boston-university, #cancer, #crispr-therapeutics, #emerging-technologies, #gilead, #head, #jim-collins, #manufacturing, #mit, #pharmaceutical, #semiconductor, #stanford, #synthetic-biology, #tc

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Researchers make their own enzyme pathway to get CO₂ out of the air

Researchers make their own enzyme pathway to get CO₂ out of the air

Enlarge (credit: Olivier Le Moal | Getty Images)

Before this century is over, we’re almost certainly going to need to pull massive amounts of carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. While we already know how to do carbon capture and storage, it takes a fair amount of energy and equipment, and someone has to pay for all that. It would be far more economical to pull CO2 out of the air if we could convert it to a useful product, like jet fuel. But processes like that also take a lot of energy, plus raw materials like hydrogen that take energy to create.

Plants and a huge range of microbes successfully pull carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to produce all sorts of complicated (and valuable!) chemicals. But the pathways they use to incorporate CO2 aren’t very efficient, so they can’t fix enough of the greenhouse gas or incorporate it into enough product to be especially useful. That has led a lot of people to look into re-engineering an enzyme that’s central to photosynthesis. But a team of European researchers has taken a radically different approach: engineering an entirely new biochemical pathway that incorporates the carbon of CO2 into molecules critical for the cell’s basic metabolism.

Sounds good in theory

On the rare occasions that most biologists think about biochemical pathways, energy is an afterthought. Most cells have enough of it to spare that they can afford to burn through their own energy supplies to force rather improbable pathways forward to get the chemicals they want. But grabbing carbon out of the atmosphere represents a very different sort of problem. You want it to happen as a central part of the cell’s metabolism rather than a pathway out on the periphery so that you grab a lot of carbon. And you want it to happen in a way that’s more efficient than the options the cells already have.

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#biochemistry, #biology, #carbon, #carbon-dioxide, #catalysis, #science, #synthetic-biology

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Ansa Biotechnologies wants to usher in a new era of DNA manufacturing

Daniel Arlow has spent the last eighteen years studying genomics and synthetic biology. The arc of his career has taken the first-time founder of the new startup Ansa Biotechnologies from MIT to the famous Keasling Lab at the University of California at Berkeley and now to the world of startups.

Now, Arlow is ready to tell the world what he’s been working on at Ansa, which is nothing less than the delivery of the next generation of synthetic DNA manufacturing.

His company is bringing to market a new process for making DNA that Arlow said is faster and more accurate than existing technologies.

“DNA read, write, and edit are the core pillars of synthetic biology,” said Seth Bannon, a founding partner at the frontier investment firm Fifty Years, and an investor in Ansa’s recent $7.9 million investment round. “Currently the ability to write DNA is the main bottleneck in the synthetic biology industry. By enabling faster, longer, and higher quality DNA synthesis with their fully enzymatic process, Ansa will help accelerate the entire synthetic biology industry.”

Arlow likens the state of the industry now to the early days of programming. “If it took three weeks to compile your code or recompile your code to make a simple change you could never make any progress in developing software for the computer,” Arlow said. And that’s the state for programmable biology these days.

“It took a really long time to test your idea after it was designed. It forces you to plan things out much more carefully and to be less spontaneous and less agile,” he said. 

Using Ansa, companies can have DNA made based on their specific requirements at a speed and scale that Arlow said other companies in the market can’t match.

Currently, DNA molecules are made using a thirty year-old chemical method that has limitations on the length of molecules that can be made. By contrast, Ansa’s biologically inspired DNA synthesis method means that the company can make long molecules directly, without the risk of errors that can result from patching pieces of genetic material together.

The company has developed an enzyme that basically adds bases to a DNA molecule. The company basically has a cut and paste function that serves to unblock DNA and then allows another base to be attached.

It’s also important to note that Arlow’s company is doing synthesis as a service rather than selling bioprinters that can enable any researcher to make their own DNA.

“One of the reasons we’re developing our business as a DNA synthesis service… as opposed to making a printer… is because that gives us a much greater ability to vet orders for biosecurity risk before we manufacture them,” Arlow said.

Other companies like DNA Script (from France) and Nuclera (a Cambridge, UK-based company) are going to market with bioprinters that they’re selling directly to research labs, according to Arlow.

All of these businesses are the next iteration of companies like Twist Bioscience, that are manufacturing DNA to power the synthetic biology revolution (something that TechCrunch Disrupt attendees have been hearing a lot about).

Ansa hasn’t shipped any DNA yet, but the company will soon be taking orders to begin competing in a market that Arlow estimates is over $1 billion today and is growing quite rapidly.

“Writing is really the bottleneck,” Arlow said. “The business we’re in is selling to R&D.. the faster we can crank out the DNA the better it is. Part of the reason why we’re still pretty bad at engineering biology is because it takes so long to build a new design. My hope is by building more we’ll get better at designing because we’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

 

#articles, #biology, #biotechnology, #dna, #dna-script, #emerging-technologies, #fifty-years, #genomics, #mit, #seth-bannon, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #twist-bioscience

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Synthetic biology startups are giving investors an appetite

There’s a growing wave of commercial activity from companies that are creating products using new biological engineering technologies.

Perhaps the most public (and tastiest) example of the promise biomanufacturing holds is Impossible Foods . The meat replacement company whose ground plants (and bioengineered additives) taste like ground beef just raised another $200 million earlier this month, giving the privately held company a $4 billion valuation.

But Impossible is only the most public face for what’s a growing trend in bioengineering — commercialization. Platform companies like Ginkgo Bioworks and Zymergen that have large libraries of metagenomic data that can be applied to products like industrial chemicals, coatings and films, pesticides and new ways to deliver nutrients to consumers.

The new products coming to market

In fact, by 2021 consumer products made with Zymergen’s bioengineered thin films should be appearing at the Consumer Electronics Show (if there is a Consumer Electronics Show). It’s one of several announcements this year from the billion dollar-valued startup.

In August, Zymergen announced that it was working with herbicide and pesticide manufacturer FMC in a partnership that will see the seven-year-old startup be an engine for product development at the nearly 130-year-old chemical company.

#arvind-gupta, #biotechnology, #bolt-threads, #chemicals, #consumer-products, #emerging-technologies, #food, #geltor, #ginkgo-bioworks, #greentech, #healthcare, #impossible-foods, #indiebio, #life-sciences, #lygos, #manufacturing, #mayfield-fund, #memphis-meats, #seth-bannon, #solazyme, #solugen, #startup-company, #startups, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #venture-capital, #zymergen

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From bioprinting lab-grown meat in Russia to Beyond Meat in the US, KFC is embracing the future of food

From a partnership with the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions to make chicken meat replacements using plant material and lab cultured chicken cells to an expansion of its Beyond Fried Chicken pilots to Southern California, KFC is aggressively pushing forward with its experiments around the future of food.

In Russia, that means providing 3D Bioprinting with breading and spices to see if the company’s chicken replacements can match the KFC taste, according to a statement from the company. As the company said, there are no other methods available on the market that can allow for the creation of complex products from animal cells.

“3D bioprinting technologies, initially widely recognized in medicine, are nowadays gaining popularity in producing foods such as meat,” said Yusef Khesuani, co-founder and Managing Partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, in a statement. “In the future, the rapid development of such technologies will allow us to make 3D-printed meat products more accessible and we are hoping that the technology created as a result of our cooperation with KFC will help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”

KFC beyond meat

Image: Beyond Meat

Closer to its home base in the US, KFC is working with the publicly traded plant-based meat substitute developer Beyond Meat on an expansion of their recent trials for KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken.

Continuing its wildly successful limited trials in Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte, KFC is now setting its sights on the bigger markets in Southern California, near Beyond Meat’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

Beginning on July 20, KFC will be selling Beyond Fried Chicken at 50 stores the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas, while supplies last, the company said.

Unlike the 3D bioprinting process used by its Russian partner, Beyond Meat uses plant-based products exclusively to make its faux chicken meat.

Beyond Fried Chicken first appeared on the market last year in Atlanta and was made available in additional markets in the South earlier this year.  The menu item — first available in a one-day consumer test in Atlanta — sold out in less than five hours, the company said.

“I’ve said it before: despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” said Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer, KFC U.S. “We know the east coast loved it, so we thought we’d give those on the west coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.

Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets will be available as a six or 12-piece à la carte or as part of a combo, complete with a side and medium drink starting at $6.99, plus tax.

Meanwhile, KFC’s Russian project aims to create the world’s first lab-made chicken nuggets, and plans to release them this fall in Moscow.

Popularizing lab-grown meat could have a significant impact on climate change according to reports. The company cited statistics indicating that growing meat from cells could half the energy consumption involved in meat production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while  dramatically cutting land use.

“Crafted meat products are the next step in the development of our ‘restaurant of the future’ concept,” said Raisa Polyakova, General Manager of KFC Russia & CIS, in a statement. “Our experiment in testing 3D bioprinting technology to create chicken products can also help address several looming global problems. We are glad to contribute to its development and are working to make it available to thousands of people in Russia and, if possible, around the world.”

#articles, #atlanta, #beyond-meat, #charlotte, #east-coast, #emerging-technologies, #energy-consumption, #fast-food, #food, #food-and-drink, #forward, #fried-chicken, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #kfc, #los-angeles, #moscow, #nashville, #russia, #san-diego, #synthetic-biology, #tc, #united-states, #west-coast

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Emerging from stealth, Octant is bringing the tools of synthetic biology to large scale drug discovery

Octant, a company backed by Andreessen Horowitz just now unveiling itself publicly to the world, is using the tools of synthetic biology to buck the latest trends in drug discovery.

As the pharmaceuticals industry turns its attention to precision medicine — the search for ever more tailored treatments for specific diseases using genetic engineering — Octant is using the same technologies to engage in drug discovery and diagnostics on a mass scale.

The company’s technology genetically engineers DNA to act as an identifier for the most common drug receptors inside the human genome. Basically, it’s creating QR codes that can flag and identify how different protein receptors in cells respond to chemicals. These are the biological sensors which help control everything from immune responses to the senses of sight and smell, the firing of neurons; even the release of hormones and communications between cells in the body are regulated.

“Our discovery platform was designed to map and measure the interconnected relationships between chemicals, multiple drug receptor pathways and diseases, enabling us to engineer multi-targeted drugs in a more rational way, across a wide spectrum of targets,” said Sri Kosuri, Octant’s co-founder and chief executive officer, in a statement.

Octant’s work is based on a technology first developed at the University of California Los Angeles by Kosuri and a team of researchers, which slashed the cost of making genetic sequences to $2 per gene from $50 to $100 per gene.

“Our method gives any lab that wants the power to build its own DNA sequences,” Kosuri said in a 2018 statement. “This is the first time that, without a million dollars, an average lab can make 10,000 genes from scratch.”

Joining Kosuri in launching Octant is Ramsey Homsany, a longtime friend of Kosuri’s, and a former executive at Google and Dropbox . Homsany happened to have a background in molecular biology from school, and when Kosuri would talk about the implications of the technology he developed, the two men knew they needed to for a company.

“We use these new tools to know which bar code is going with which construct or genetic variant or pathway that we’re working with [and] all of that fits into a single well,” said Kosuri. “What you can do on top of that is small molecule screening… we can do that with thousands of different wells at a time. So we can build these maps between chemicals and targets and pathways that are essential to drug development.”

Before coming to UCLA, Kosuri had a long history with companies developing products based on synthetic biology on both the coasts. Through some initial work that he’d done in the early days of the biofuel boom in 2007, Kosuri was connected with Flagship Ventures, and the imminent Harvard-based synthetic biologist George Church . He also served as a scientific advisor to Gen9, a company acquired by the multi-billion dollar synthetic biology powerhouse, Ginkgo Bioworks.

“Some of the most valuable drugs in history work on complex sets of drug targets, which is why Octant’s focus on polypharmacology is so compelling,” said Jason Kelly, the co-founder and CEO of Gingko Bioworks, and a member of the Octant board, in a statement. “Octant is engineering a lot of luck and cost out of the drug discovery equation with its novel platform and unique big data biology insights, which will drive the company’s internal development programs as well as potential partnerships.”

The new technology arrives at a unique moment in the industry where pharmaceutical companies are moving to target treatments for diseases that are tied to specific mutations, rather than look at treatments for more common disease problems, said Homsany.

“People are dropping common disease problems,” he said. “The biggest players are dropping these cases and it seems like that just didn’t make sense to us. So we thought about how would a company take these new technologies and apply them in a way that could solve some of this.”

One reason for the industry’s turn away from the big diseases that affect large swaths of the population is that new therapies are emerging to treat these conditions which don’t rely on drugs. While they wouldn’t get into specifics, Octant co-founders are pursuing treatments for what Kosuri said were conditions “in the metabolic space” and in the “neuropsychiatric space”.

Helping them pursue those targets, since Octant is very much a drug development company, is $20 million in financing from investors led by Andreessen Horowitz .

“Drug discovery remains a process of trial and error. Using its deep expertise in synthetic biology, the Octant team has engineered human cells that provide real-time, precise and complete readouts of the complex interactions and effects that drug molecules have within living cells,” said Jorge Conde, general partner at Andreessen Horowitz, and member of the Octant board of directors. “By querying biology at this unprecedented scale, Octant has the potential to systematically create exhaustive maps of drug targets and corresponding, novel treatments for our most intractable diseases.”

#andreessen-horowitz, #articles, #biology, #biotechnology, #chemicals, #dna, #dna-sequencing, #dropbox, #drug-development, #drug-discovery, #emerging-technologies, #executive, #flagship-ventures, #general-partner, #genetic-engineering, #genetics, #george-church, #ginkgo-bioworks, #google, #harvard, #jason-kelly, #jorge-conde, #pharmaceutical, #synthetic-biology, #tc

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Meet the Xenobots, Virtual Creatures Brought to Life

Computer scientists and biologists have teamed up to make a new class of living robotics that challenge the boundary between digital and biological.

#animal-behavior, #biology-and-biochemistry, #blackiston-douglas, #computer-and-video-games, #computers-and-the-internet, #frogs, #levin-michael-scholar, #microbiology, #robots-and-robotics, #skin, #synthetic-biology, #your-feed-health, #your-feed-science

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