NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Eurofins Genomics, a subsidiary of Eurofins Scientific with operations in the US, has opened up its early access program for a new DNA synthesis service to applicants.
While it has already worked with several customers, the Louisville, Kentucky-based operation is looking for 20 to 30 more partners to get feedback on its new, automated DNA synthesis platform.
Eurofins Genomics officials Jeff Nelson and Martin Kunz told GenomeWeb their "next-generation synthesizer" is the result of a ground-up project that sought to address an underserved market — scientists looking for the speed and quality provided by high-throughput DNA synthesis, but not looking for quite that much volume. Eurofins is launching the platform for applications requiring 60- to 80-mers in quantities of approximately 2 to 4 nanomols, or less.
Already, they've tested it internally for gene synthesis and externally for qPCR, next-generation sequencing, and synthetic biology. Now, they're looking to expand upon that.
"We've seen customers in a rapid research cycle where the end product might be something commercial, where they need higher volume, but during research they want to reduce cost," Kunz, president of Eurofins Genomics, said. "This is where the technology fits very well."
Nelson added that the synthesis method is not uncommonly found in the field; however, the firm has used automation and microfluidics to improve upon it. The project dates back about five years, he said. While the company has been offering DNA synthesis for several decades, "we wanted to create something completely new," he said. That meant a complete overhaul of the process.
The firm signed up with an engineering firm to optimize the reagent handling. "Typically, the robot has to move to a specific location before it dispenses or withdraws [reagents]," Nelson said. "In doing that, it slows things down. Move to a spot, do something. Move to a spot, do something. Move to a spot, do something."
The new platform adjusted the robotics so it can dispense on the fly. "You're just moving continuously across the plate and dispensing at the right time to make into the well," Nelson said. "That greatly reduces the time of dispensing. It's not trivial. The engineering aspect has to be really well thought out and demonstrated to get all that timing just right."
The company also optimized reagent withdrawal. "Traditional batch mode synthesizers use pressure differentials to move fluids around," he said. That works well, but only up to a point. "At very small volumes, it's inefficient," and capillary action is a better choice, enabling both high-throughput synthesis, but on a very small scale.
For the researcher looking for oligos in the volumes Eurofins wants to produce, the company claims it offers an appealing blend of quality, speed, and price.
"There's usually a minimum number of oligos you need to order, otherwise from a cost standpoint, it's not attractive," Kunz said.
And other synthesis platforms can't necessarily offer the same quality Eurofins can. That's not to say the company offers everything other platforms like, say, array-based synthesis do. "There are certain advantages array-based synthesis has, where we are not overlapping," Kunz said.
Of recent headline-making synthetic DNA platforms, Eurofins won't offer the same lengths or volumes as Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Gen9. Bay Area startup Synthego is taking the same automated process optimization approach to nucleic acid synthesis, but is focusing first on products for CRISPR/Cas9 screening.
He added that the company will soon offer a much later order cutoff time, enabled not only by the throughput of the system but by the facility's location in Louisville. While many companies, including Eurofins, can offer next-day delivery, most have an order cutoff time around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. Eastern time. "What we're looking for is to go to about 6 p.m. Eastern time," Kunz said, noting that his team conducted a study suggesting most US researchers order between 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., even if the cutoff was earlier.
"We have the best location in terms of logistics," he said, near the main UPS shipping hub. "We built a facility from scratch to have access to it."
Eurofins has already outlined a few areas where it thinks its platform can make a difference. In addition to synthetic biology, NGS, and qPCR, the firm wants to bring in customers using oligos for gene editing, microarrays, and in several fields like infectious disease, ag-bio, and biofuels research.
Kunz said the firm would be selective in choosing partners. If engaged, the partner would pay Eurofins for the service, it hasn't settled on a pricing model, Kunz said, although it would include overall volume, oligo length, and whether the final products are delivered in tubes or on a plate.
In return, Eurofins is looking for data and general comments. This will all inform the company as it prepares to launch this "next-generation" synthesis in early 2017, Kunz said. Initially, it will only be available in the US, where Eurofins will replace its existing synthesis capacity at its Louisville facility and the new platform will take over. Eventually the technology will be rolled out to other manufacturing locations in Asia and Europe. In the future, oligo length could be extended, Nelson said.