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VBI Lands $1.4M Stimulus Grant for Synthetic DNA Software

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Bioinformatics researchers at Virginia Polytechnic and State University will use $1.4 million from the National Science Foundation to continue developing software used for designing synthetic DNA, the university said on Monday.

Funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the three-year grant to the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) will be used to develop GenoCAD, a web-based computer assisted design environment for use in synthetic biology projects.

The GenoCAD is a point-and-click interface that allows users to design new genetic sequences by clicking icons that represent structural features or functional blocks. When a design is completed, the sequence can be downloaded for synthesis or for further analysis. Users also may customize their workspaces, create their own parts libraries, and reuse their designs.

The public version of GenoCAD is available for free, and the open source distribution of the software makes it possible for groups to install it on their servers and customize it to meet their needs.

"We are considering DNA as a language to program living organisms instead of computers," said Jean Peccoud, an associate professor at VBI who is lead investigator on the NSF grant.

"This analogy has led us to apply methods and results from computer science to biology. In particular, rules describing how different functional elements should be combined can be described in the language grammar," Peccoud said.

Early applications for GenoCAD include the development of vaccines, sensing devices for biodefense, and metabolic pathways for biofuel production.

"We intend to involve the synthetic biology research community in helping to advance this project in such a way that it meets the needs of a wide user base," Peccoud said.

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