DNA synthesis pioneers Twist Bioscience have launched a computer aided design platform to aid genome building in collaboration with the international Genome Project (GP)-write team with the aim of making genome design easier and more cost effective.
While it is technically possible to create new genomes—these have so far been limited to bacteria, yeast and other small genome species. Limitations such as difficulty, cost and limitations on the length of synthetic DNA have all made developing larger artificial genomes difficult.
GP-write is an open, international research project involving almost 300 scientists across 17 countries. It was founded in 2015 inspired by the sequencing of the human genome and is funded by public, private, philanthropic, industry and academic sources from around the world.
It aims to lower the costs of engineering and testing large genomes, such as a human genome, in cell lines and has a goal of reducing costs by 1000-fold in 10 years. From the initiation of the project, it has explicitly stated it does not involve ova or embryos and will not be involved in creating so-called ‘parentless babies’.
In 2019 the GP-write identified that next generation software is a key requirement for moving genome design and generation to the next level. The new computer aided design (CAD) platform launched this week by GP-write and Twist will be freely available to academics and companies selected to participate in GP-write’s new incubator.
“CAD features will help inform the functional meaning of genetic mutations that cause disease and enable the reprogramming of genetic blueprints,” explained George Church, Ph.D., a well-known professor at Harvard Medical School and a founder of GP-write.
It will improve currently available options for genome design as it will be cheaper and easier to use. For example, the technology will allow scientists to scale up to create larger genomes based on initial work. Automation is being heavily used to help improve collaborative design efforts ranging from kilobase up to gigabase level. The platform is also designed to provide guidance to researchers on what the genotypic and phenotypic consequences of their design could be.
The software will also allow researchers to directly order DNA from partners such as Twist who are one of the leaders in the field at generating longer reads of artificial DNA, something that has proved challenging in the past. Twist are the first industrial partner involved with the project, but more are anticipated to join in the future.
“The CAD technology provides an important tool to make genome engineering and biological discovery more accessible to a wider spectrum of researchers, supporting the democratization of synthetic biology to improve human health and sustainability,” said Twist CEO, Emily Leproust, Ph.D.
While this new platform is a promising step closer to the generation of larger genomes, there is still a long way to go and other problems to solve. For example, although Twist is known for its expertise in this area, there are still some significant limitations of the length of artificial DNA that can be synthesized that currently makes designing larger genomes more difficult.