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Highlights from the SynBioBeta 2020 Conference

October 21, 2020 | Codex DNA

The Codex DNA team really enjoyed attending this year’s virtual Global Synthetic Biology Conference hosted by SynBioBeta. If you missed the event, we’ve got you covered — here’s our take on highlights from the meeting.

BioXp™ system in the spotlight

We were honored to have several Codex DNA team members included in a panel discussion about how advanced, automated synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins could be used to help prevent future pandemics. The panel — including our CEO Todd Nelson, CTO Dan Gibson, and Staff Scientist Krishna Kannan — served as a great introduction to our Digital-to-biological converter (DBC) concept. The DBC represents our goal of producing an internet-connected vaccine printer that could synthesize over 500 doses of a vaccine in just two days, based entirely on information submitted digitally and a self-contained set of necessary reagents.

We believe that assembling a global network of these vaccine printers could “enable a future where we stamp out viral outbreaks” at their source, Gibson told conference attendees, adding that it would “fundamentally change the trajectory of how vaccines are made and distributed.” While the DBC sounds like science fiction, many of its core components already exist in the BioXp™ 3250 system. A DBC prototype could be available in the next 12 to 18 months.

Cellular agriculture

As consumers seek food that has been produced sustainably and ethically in a supply-constrained environment, they have become more open to the concept of meat alternatives. Companies highlighted in this arena at the conference included Finless Foods, which uses a novel protein derived from stem cells to generate fish meat, and Air Protein, which adapts a process similar to fermentation to allow microbes to convert CO2 into food.

In another presentation, Heath Packard from Island Conservation spoke about his company’s work using synthetic biology and AI-driven data to increase scale, scope, and pace of island restorations across the globe to protect communities and  improve biodiversity.

CRISPR

Perhaps foreshadowing the imminent Nobel Prize awarded to Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier for their work on CRISPR gene editing, the SynBioBeta conference also included several presentations on this topic.

Rahul Dhanda from Sherlock Biosciences discussed the integration of a CRISPR-based strategy for faster pathogen detection by creating the novel Sherlock CRISPR SARS-CoV-2 kit, aimed at enabling high-volume lab testing and a point-of-care test. He also formally rolled out his 221b Foundation program, aiming to invest in STEM education programs, especially for minorities and women.

Scientists from Cardea Bio focused on their CRISPR-Chip™, which is used to automate liquid-handling robots to perform CRISPR experiments and run rapid, AI-powered assessments of what makes a good guide RNA sequence.

Mike Kamdar from Molecular Assemblies spoke about the company’s production of long, accurate DNA for CAR-T and CRISPR-based therapeutics or vaccines. They use a two-step enzymatic DNA process to reduce error rates and allow for synthesizing longer DNA.

New synthetic biology approaches

New England Biolabs offered a great talk on cloning problems and the issue of large constructs and fidelity of the ligase. They’ve created a tool that uses a novel data approach to comprehensive restriction enzyme cutting and ligation fidelity.

Mike Jewett from Northwestern University discussed the concept of cell-free synthetic biology and chaired a roundtable discussion about eliminating the need for E. coli-based approaches to protein engineering.

We hope this recap is helpful for anyone who couldn’t attend the event. Stay tuned for more conference coverage in the future.

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