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New Company Formed to Commercialize Synthetic DNA Discovery

DNA fragment (Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

7 May 2014. Synthorx Inc., a spin-off company from Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, will commercialize research licensed from Scripps that adds synthetic DNA elements into natural DNA of organisms. The research, led by Scripps chemistry professor and Synthorx co-founder Floyd Romesberg, appears today online in the journal Nature (paid subscription required).

Romesberg, with colleagues from Scripps and biotechnology company New England Biolabs in Ipswich, Massachusetts, showed the ability for an organism — in this case, E. coli bacteria — to support and replicate DNA with a synthetic DNA base pair added to its natural base-pair genetic code. Genetic information is coded in DNA with two base pairs, A-T and G-C.

Romesberg’s team succeeded in adding a synthetic base pair, coded as X-Y, into E. coli DNA, with the DNA continuing to function normally. In addition, the E. coli were able to reproduce and replicate their DNA with the added base pairs. “The ability to incorporate and replicate a synthetic DNA base pair in vivo,” says Romesberg in a company statement, “means that we have, for the first time, expanded the genetic alphabet to increase the amount of information that can be stored in DNA.”

The team faced a particular challenge in getting the new base pairs into the E. coli DNA. The researchers were able to create the genetic building blocks, known as nucleoside triphosphates. in a fluid solution outside the cells. But they needed transporter molecules made by a micro-algae species to deliver and import the X-Y base pairs into E. coli DNA.

The sequence of the four natural nucleotide chemical units that make up the base pairs — A, T, C, and G — determine the proteins generated by cells in organisms. Adding the X and Y units makes it possible for DNA to store more genetic information than before, and create proteins with entirely new chemistries from a much larger collection of amino acids. Synthorx says this discovery can lead to new drugs, vaccines, and diagnostics, as well as chemicals, reagents, and advanced materials.

Romesberg is a co-founder of Synthorx, along with co-authors Denis Malyshev, Kirandeep Dhami, and Thomas Lavergne, who are also current or former lab colleagues at Scripps. Synthorx has an exclusive license from Scripps to commercialize the technology. The company is backed by venture capital companies Avalon Ventures and Correlation Ventures.

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