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Following recent progress in DNA sequencing, California-based TeselaGen has developed a prototyping platform to help streamline synthetic biology experiments.
As the costs of DNA sequencing and synthesis plummet, a host of computer science-meets-biotech startups are emerging in Silicon Valley. Among the new players is San Francisco- headquartered TeselaGen, which creates middleware – third party software which enables different IT applications to talk to each other – for biotech labs looking to speed up the design and iteration of new DNA constructs. The company builds tools that help researchers set up and manage synthetic biology experiments and interpret data from lab equipment. According to TeselaGen CEO Mike Fero, the company’s vision in developing a platform for rapid prototyping in synthetic biology is to help laboratories doing analysis to “close the design-build-test-and-evolve loop”. The company is currently backed by about $1 million in Small Business Innovation Research grants from theNational Science Foundation, an independent US government agency whose mission is to promote science and engineering through research programs and education projects.
A platform to streamline experimentation
The IT platform developed by TeselaGen aims to “shorten the time frame it takes to get your DNA built and run more experiments,” explains Mike Fero. TeselaGen has built visual tools that help researchers view, edit and manage sequences quickly and easily. The team has also created a design canvas that supports Synthetic Biology Open Language, an open set of standards that help synthetic biologists and genetic engineers share DNA designs. In addition they are leveraging j5, which is a new software-based tool that automates DNA assembly and design, promoting a faster design-build-test-and-evolve process. Like other companies in the field, TeselaGen gives its product away free to academic researchers, but charges corporate clients annual subscription fees.
Automated biotech innovation
A biologist might want to test 10,000 different variants of a design, with minor alterations in each. Right now, the cost of synthesizing each and every one of those constructs would be too expensive, and Mike Fero is hoping that that some of the products TeselaGen is building could in the future help to bring the costs of such experiments down considerably. Meanwhile, the advent of automated procedures in the biotechnology domain is reflected in the growth of companies such as scientific outsourcing provider Transcriptic, which runs fully automated labs, and Genome Compiler Corporation, which builds (CAM/CAD) design and manufacturing tools for biologists. Genome Compiler provides similar solutions to the sequence visualization tools that TeselaGen offers researchers, the major differences being that they are not based on Synthetic Biology Open Language and that Genome Complier does not use any equivalent to the j5 protocol. In the same way that large data flows are changing the way we solve problems nowadays, the next generation of synthetic biologists could well be relying solely on programming interfaces to carry out their experiments.