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Synthetic Genomics for Industry

Craig Venter tells Industrial Biotechnology that his and his colleagues' development of a synthetic genome showed that DNA is somewhat like a software system that can be programmed, and that proof-of-principle study can to applied broadly to a number of societal challenges.

For instance, Venter notes that his company Synthetic Genomics is focused on developing cells as a source of food, vaccines, antimicrobials, and, in the longer run, fuel.

"This technology will affect everything in industrial biotechnology; it's just a matter of how fast that happens," Venter tells Industrial Biotechnology. He notes that it holds particular promise for replacing carbon-based materials with sugar-based ones.

But to get there, he says that the field needs to move a bit faster. "DNA synthesis capability is so important because it will allow us to assemble and test a lot of genomes. In fact, because we don't know the function of all the genes, if we could make 10,000 versions of something very quickly and screen for the functions we want, the 10 years that DuPont spent [developing propanediol from sugar] could potentially be reduced to a few months, " Venter says. "That is where this field is going because of the iterative ability to make lots of different combinations. And in doing so, being able to determine the functions of the genes by their associations, versus studying them one at a time and one lab at a time."