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Instant insight: Rewriting the genetic code
01 June 2009
Researchers' dreams of automated gene synthesis could soon become a reality, predict Jingdong Tian and colleagues at Duke University, Durham, US
Bulky commercial DNA synthesisers are currently used to synthesise short oligonucleotides, the building blocks for gene assembly
The main challenges in technology development for de novo gene synthesis include improving or inventing new DNA synthesis chemistry, reducing or eliminating synthesis errors, miniaturising the reaction apparatus, increasing the throughput of oligonucleotide synthesis and automating the gene assembly process. Synthesis errors accumulate rapidly in an elongating DNA molecule if the step-wise coupling efficiency is less than 100 per cent (it is currently 99.5 to 99.8 per cent). Identifying and correcting those errors is one of the most costly and time-consuming steps in gene synthesis and the hardest process to automate.
To increase throughput and reduce cost and chemical consumption, a current trend is to use DNA microchip and microfabrication techniques to miniaturise and massively parallelise the oligonucleotide synthesis process. Scientists are testing new technologies, such as digital photolithography, inkjet printing, electrochemical array and microfluidics. A few research groups have demonstrated the feasibility of using oligonucleotides synthesised and harvested from DNA microchips for gene assembly. Once scientists optimise the process, synthesising a whole microbial genome from a single microchip will become feasible.
Read more in issue 7 of MolecularBioSystems, a synthetic biology theme issue.
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Link to journal article
Advancing high-throughput gene synthesis technology
Jingdong Tian, Kuosheng Ma and Ishtiaq Saaem, Mol. BioSyst., 2009, 5, 714
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