It is a well-known fact that everything is better when you add lasers, and apparently lasers make 3D printing DNA hover dangerously close to what you would call affordable thanks to San Francisco biotech startup, Cambrian Genomics.
We’re getting cloned dinosaurs folks. I’m calling it. We can now literally print strands of DNA capable of life. Granted, we’re still a little ways away from actual life, but this is clearly the first step to a real world Jurassic Park. In a Bloomberg video Cambrian Genomics co-founder Austen Heinz even tells us that we will have cloned dinosaurs:
“This technology is going to allow us to actually bring back dinosaurs, bring back extinct species, make life forms that help us live in space and go to other planets”
And apparently not just dinosaurs, but we’re going to get dinosaurs capable of living in space. Okay, it may be a few years before we have to start worrying about our lab-grown space T-rexes strapping some lasers on their backs and eating us, but at this point it is simply an inevitability. Someone is going to build super space dinosaurs and they will be awesome.
Shockingly, printing DNA isn’t really new technology, we’ve been doing it for years. It can be used in making medications, studying dangerous pathogens and we can even program it to store massive amounts of data. The problem isn’t the ability to synthesise DNA, it is the cost. Printing the human genome with traditional methods would cost billions of dollars, and that’s just one set of human chromosomes. The expense is due to the high rate of failure in grown DNA. Massive quantities of DNA can be grown quickly, but a large percentage of them with have errors and defects that render them useless so they need to be sorted. As you can imagine sorting billions of strands of DNA is going to take a little bit of time.
But the new process that Cambrian Genome created speeds up that process exponentially by using laser printers to sort the DNA making it significantly quicker and more affordable. How affordable will it be? The DNA laser printer will produce more viable DNA in a single run than is produced in all of the machines in the entire world in a single year. Turning DNA printing into something that can be affordable to more than an occasional multi-billionaire or a super villain looking to grow space dinosaur henchmen is probably a pretty good thing for humanity
When growing synthetic DNA the process is a lot more complicated than this but essentially it’s grown more or less like grass. Millions of strands are formed by mixing the base compounds of DNA in a specific sequence, causing the strands to form attached at one end to a growth array. Once grown, they are detached from the growth array and then attached to a one-micron wide bead. Once each bead has a strand of DNA attached to it the strand itself is cloned, so each bead will then have multiple copies of the original attached to it. The beads are then moved onto a small glass slide and the laser printer examines the DNA and zaps the beads containing the accurate DNA. This sends the good DNA into collection flow cells, leaving behind any undesirable or defective DNA.
This process starts with one million strands of lab grown DNA and results in a billion cloned strands sorted at a rate of one hundred strands per second. This will, as Heinz puts it, make DNA a consumer product.
“Anyone in the world is going to get to be a genetic designer”
Granted that’s a little terrifying considering some of the consumer products that have managed to find their way to market, but it’s also kind of amazing. We are truly living in the future. We’re not just printing cell phone cases anymore, we’re 3D printing life. 3D printed life that turns into space dinosaurs capable of eating us, but you have to admit, that’s a really awesome way to go.
If you would like to know more about the process of laser printing DNA take a look at this video and slideshow that explains the process a little more in depth:
Source: Cambrian Genomics