Scientists at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley (UC Berkeley) have designed a new way to create DNA sequences on demand that promises to be faster, cheaper and more accurate than the regular DNA synthesis technique used so far in laboratories around the world. The new method, a revolutionary “DNA printer” has its basis in the use of enzymes, which in the future could produce DNA strands ten times longer than those now manufactured artificially.
This new method is designed to accelerate research in multiple fields and to be a step forward in the development of synthetic biology, a branch that investigates the creation of artificial microorganisms for practical purposes.
“If you are a researcher or bioengineer and have an instrument that speeds up DNA synthesis, something like a “DNA printer”, you can test your ideas much faster and then try out new ones,” said Dan Arlow from the UC Berkeley, who worked on this project with Sebastian Palluk, from the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany.
“DNA printer” is a much faster, cheaper, and accurate DNA synthesis technique for the research field
Today, laboratories around the world commission biotech companies to manufacture specific DNA sequences as part of their routine research.
These companies use a technology developed in 1981 and based on organic chemistry methodologies to produce so-called oligonucleotides, short DNA sequences of up to 200 base pairs.
The before-mentioned traditional technique is very costly, slow, and not entirely precise. It was these downsides that led Palluck and Arlow to find a new way DNA synthesis technique.
Their “DNA printer” method is based on a DNA-producing enzyme, TdT (deoxynucleotidyl transferase terminal), present in cells of the immune system whose function is to incorporate new nucleotides. Unlike the other enzymes that have this function in cells, this enzyme does not use a pre-existing DNA template or pattern to copy it. Instead, it adds nucleotides.
In fact, the accuracy achieved by this revolutionary method is 98%.
“Not bad for a first attempt at solving a 50-year-old problem. But we want to achieve 99.9% accuracy and create DNA sequences the length of a gene,” Palluck said.