Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Design a DNA Printer

BIOlogy :: UK-based Desktop Genetics has put a call out in the form of a contest, for a design of a desktop DNA printer - "a device that can automatically build genetic material (namely DNA) much like how a 3D printer can automatically fabricate a 3D object" - according to Desktop Genetics' design competition brief.

Whether or not you are a biomedical engineer - the contest offers an interesting opportunity to learn about synthesizing DNA - something that may in the near future seriously revolutionize the way we think about health care and biology.

I'm not sure if  I'll submit an entry or not (the deadline is January 8) - but I'm enjoying the process of learning as I approach the challenge.

The design brief itself includes a video that describes the current state of DNA synthesizing - oligonucleotide synthesis - which is basically short DNA sequences that are assembled by a synthesizer adding the basic chemical elements of DNA (guanine, adenine, thymine, and cytosine), then having these oligonucleotide pieces assembled together into longer, completed sequences. These sequences are artificially generated using software by geneticists.

A similar process of DNA "printing" was used by Craig Venter and his team to create the first synthetic lifeform, a bacteria called "Mycoplasma laboratorium." 


Here's what existing desktop oligonucleotide synthesizers look like... 

I've got to assess how complex the submission actually has to be. If it is essentially providing a versatile shell for existing oligonucleotide synthesizer layouts, then in a few days a submission might be possible. If the submission requires a complete solution for new, compact layouts - then this will simply serve as a constructive self-learning experience. I might even end up with a product design entry for the Helios Works blog.