We’re continuing our blog series, looking at the DNA of Codex DNA — our incredible employees and their stories.
Team member: Lixia Fu, Staff Scientist
Came aboard: February 2020
What do you do at Codex DNA?
I’ve been working in the research and development department on many aspects of DNA synthesis to build with efficiency, consistency, and DNA fidelity which are the foundation for all the downstream applications on the BioXp™ system. Through numerous experiments, I developed and optimized a robust and high-fidelity DNA synthesis workflow on the bench, and then worked with Katie Lyons, Director of Field Applications Science, and Gary Mills, Senior Director of Systems Engineering, to develop the workflow on the BioXp system. I also worked on BioXp applications such as MTAC (Multi-tile assembly and cloning), RapidAmp, and assisted bench-to-machine transfer. Recently I have been working on the SOLA (enzymatic DNA synthesis) platform. Led by Senior Director of R&D John Gill, we work as a team to drive innovation for our SOLA technology, and we have demonstrated that this oligo synthesis on the benchtop can build a fully synthetic 1.7 kb H1 flu gene derived from 32 overlapping SOLA generated 100-mers, and we can even assemble a high-fidelity spike gene of almost 4 kb from 72 overlapping SOLA generated 100-mers in one pot of reaction. Currently, I mostly work on other projects like our Pfizer collaboration led by our Director of Research and Development, Krishna Kannan, working on an alternative NGS application on the BioXp system, and supporting DNA Data storage applications.
How did you get into that kind of work?
I have worked in the molecular biology space for over 20 years, whether in academia, pharmaceutical, or biotech. I eventually came across what was then Synthetic Genomics and joined the department of DNA technology led by Dan Gibson. I was intrigued by the great work the team was doing, and I have been here ever since.
How would you describe the company culture?
We began as a startup, but since we filed our IPO, we’re growing fast, and the culture continues to evolve. We have many talented people doing great work every day, and there is good collaboration among the team. We work hard, but we also have a team player mindset across the organization. I also like that my team encourages new ideas and creative ways of doing things to solve problems.
How would you describe synthetic biology to non-scientists?
I would compare it to building a house or remodeling a room. You start with a big picture and ask yourself what you want to accomplish when building your home or remodeling a room. After that, you start with a draft design, then a detailed design, and ask questions along the way to make sure it’s on track. Next, you build the home with bricks, tiles, and walls. You may like the kitchen to function a certain way, so you design the kitchen with practicality in mind. You can think of synthetic biology in the same way. In synthetic biology, you assemble all the moving parts to produce something functional to produce the desired result. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, people remodeled their offices for working at home from their garage or home gym, which is very similar to modifying cell pathways for a particular function. We apply synthetic biology to metabolic engineering on cells to function better for the desired purpose, such as producing more chemicals or more oil.
What’s something fun about working at Codex DNA?
There’s always something fun going on. We work with a diverse group of people on various projects. People + Culture plans fantastic company events like the recent ice cream day, where you can meet new people.
What was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up?
In a way, I have always wanted to be a scientist, and I enjoy using scientific analysis and logic to solve a problem or a mystery. At Codex DNA, one of my key roles is to get experiments to work well, which involves a lot of analysis, troubleshooting, and problem-solving. These days, even after so many years of being a scientist, I still get excited when problems or mysteries got solved, and I can’t wait to use our Codex DNA technology to solve real-world problems.
How do you see synthetic biology changing the world?
Synthetic biology plays a huge role in healthcare, the environment, industry, and agriculture, to name a few. For example, medical diagnoses and treatments are getting much better and faster because of synthetic biology, especially during the pandemic. I think the future will show the limitless potential of synthetic biology, and it will be amazing.