Enzymes aim to beat chemistry by creating longer, speedier, cleaner DNA strands

Companies are pushing the limits of DNA synthesis by turning from chemistry to enzymes

The first new chemistry for DNA writing in 30 years is gathering steam, with enzymatic synthesis startups developing platforms to generate longer, purer DNA strands in record time. While the new players aim to outperform established DNA synthesis companies, the latter stand to benefit if they can adapt the enzymatic approach to their hardware.

Big leaps in DNA sequencing technology have made reading the genome substantially faster and cheaper over the last 15 years, but DNA writing still faces steep limitations in turnaround time and cost. “There is a very large discrepancy in performance between what you can do in terms of sequencing, and what is today feasible in terms of synthesis,” said DNA Script A/S co-founder and COO Sylvain Gariel.

Increasing momentum for synthetic biology, including engineered cell therapies, biomanufacturing and artificial bacterial genomes, is moving DNA writing technologies forward.

“Synthetic biology investment has really ramped up dramatically in the last couple of years, and synthetic biology is I think the fastest growing segment of gene buyers,” Daniel Arlow, CEO of Ansa Biotechnologies Inc., told BioCentury. “Those people are running through tons of genes.”

With DNA synthesis chemistry remaining largely static, the bulk of the innovation has been on the hardware side. Companies like Twist Bioscience Corp., GenScript Biotech Corp. Thermo Fischer Scientific Inc. and the Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) unit of Danaher Corp. have improved speed, cost and quality through miniaturized, multiplexed devices and optimized processes.

At least five companies hope to push DNA writing even further by

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