In May, Venter and his team successfully inserted a fully customized strand of DNA into a living cell, creating what they call the “first synthetic genome.” Church says MAGE (Multiplex Automated Genome Engineering) can achieve similar results faster and cheaper. His lab’s device will go on sale later this year for about $90,000, and at least a dozen companies, including chemical giant DuPont (DD) and biotech startup Amyris, are considering purchasing it
In 2009, Church’s team was able to genetically alter a common bacterium, E. coli, to produce lycopene, an antioxidant in tomatoes that may help fight cancer. Some of the altered bacteria produced five times the normal quantity of lycopene. The team spent just three days and $1,000 in supplies to produce the bacteria using MAGE. Using old techniques, it would have taken months.
Bloomberg coverage – the Harvard team modifies DNA directly in live cells, which are tricked into thinking it’s their own genetic material
* While MAGE can produce high quantities of cells with many functions, Venter’s method can design cells that can be used as templates to build on
* The Harvard team has worked with engineers at Boston Engineering Corp., a closely held engineering-services company in Waltham, Massachusetts, since October to turn MAGE into a manufacturable machine
* The global market for synthetic biology totaled $233.8 million in 2008 and may increase to $2.4 billion in 2013, according to a June report from BCC Research, a research company in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Applications in chemicals and energy produced sales of $80.6 million in 2008, the report said. Those in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals came to $80.3 million.
* Researchers may one day be able to use these techniques to develop cotton that’s waterproof or bananas that stay ripe for months
Engineering vitamin-producing bacteria isn’t the only use for the new technique, Isaacs says. “It will immediately decrease the time it will take to improve the efficiency and production of virtually any compound that’s generated, right now, in E. coli and looking beyond into other types of organisms as well.”
The team was planning in 2009 to adapt the MAGE technique and machine to yeast, plant and animal cells.
Here, we describe multiplex automated genome engineering (MAGE) for large-scale programming and evolution of cells. MAGE simultaneously targets many locations on the chromosome for modification in a single cell or across a population of cells, thus producing combinatorial genomic diversity. Because the process is cyclical and scalable, we constructed prototype devices that automate the MAGE technology to facilitate rapid and continuous generation of a diverse set of genetic changes (mismatches, insertions, deletions). We applied MAGE to optimize the 1-deoxy-d-xylulose-5-phosphate (DXP) biosynthesis pathway in Escherichia coli to overproduce the industrially important isoprenoid lycopene. Twenty-four genetic components in the DXP pathway were modified simultaneously using a complex pool of synthetic DNA, creating over 4.3 billion combinatorial genomic variants per day.