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Synthetic biology

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Xinhuanet

Scientists from MIT, Georgia Institute of Technology, Sun Yat-sen University and Beijing-based AI startup Galixir have developed a deep-learning toolkit that can predict biosynthetic pathways for natural products, which are a primary source of clinical drug discovery, reports Xinhua Net. “The researchers presented a toolkit called Bionavi-NP to propose NP biosynthetic pathways from simple building blocks in an oprtimal fashion, which requires no already-known biochemical rules,” writes Xinhua Net.

TechCrunch

MIT startup Volta Labs is developing a new instrument that can automate the processes used to prepare genetic samples, reports Emma Betuel for TechCrunch. CEO and co-founder Udayan Umapathi ’17 is confident that with the right programming, the platform could allow “liquids to be manipulated in even more complex ways, like using magnetic fields to draw certain molecules out of samples for further analysis,” writes Betuel.

Smithsonian Magazine

Researchers from MIT and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute are developing a probiotic to cure amphibian chytrid fungus in frogs, reports Jennifer Zoon for Smithsonian Magazine.

New York Times

New York Times reporter Steve Lohr spotlights the origin and history of MIT startup Gingko Bioworks, a synthetic biology company founded with a “shared belief that biology could be made more like computing with reusable code and standard tools instead of the bespoke experiments of traditional biology." Jason Kelly ’03, PhD ’08, one of the founders of MIT startup Ginkgo Bioworks and the company’s chief executive, explains that “the ultimate goal for Ginkgo is to make it as easy to program a cell as it is to program a computer.”

The Boston Globe

Ginkgo Bioworks founders Jason Kelly PhD ’08, S.B. ’03 and Reshma Shetty PhD ’08 speak with Boston Globe reporter Scott Kirsner about the inspiration for and growth of the company, which is focused on manipulating genetic material to get living cells to perform new jobs. Shetty notes that the Ginkgo Bioworks team is “dedicated to making biology easier to engineer."

New Scientist

New Scientist reporter Layal Liverpool writes that a new study co-authored by MIT researchers finds that “synthetic cells made by combining components of Mycoplasma bacteria with a chemically synthesised genome can grow and divide into cells of uniform shape and size, just like most natural bacterial cells.”

C&EN

Prof. Kristala L. J. Prather speaks with Korie Grayson of C&EN about her career path and her work harnessing the synthetic power of microbial systems. Of the importance of mentorship, Prather notes, “The exponential way in which you can actually have a positive impact is by taking good care of the people who are placed into your academic and intellectual trust. That’s how we make a difference.”

Marketplace

Prof. James Collins speaks with Molly Wood of Marketplace about his work developing a faster, cheaper and more accurate Covid-19 diagnostic. Collins explains that his research group is “using synthetic biology to create highly sensitive, low-cost diagnostics, some that are now approved for use in clinical diagnostics labs, and now we’re moving towards point-of-care diagnostics, as well as at-home diagnostics.”

Forbes

Forbes reporter Amy Feldman spotlights MIT startup Ginkgo Bioworks, which aims to “design, modify and manufacture organisms to make existing industrial processes cheaper and entirely new processes possible.” Feldman notes that the promise of synthetic biology is “not just a proliferation of new products, but also a reduction of the environmental harm that comes from our heavy reliance on petrochemicals.”

Guardian

Guardian reporter Ian Sample writes that MIT startup Synlogic are developing a “living” medicine” made from genetically modified bugs. “By engineering these bacteria, we are able to control how they operate in the human gastrointestinal tract,” says Caroline Kurtz of Synlogic. “It allows us to think about many other diseases where you may need to produce something beneficial, or remove something that is toxic for the patient.”

New York Times

In an article for The New York Times about how scientists are developing new ways to treat disease using bacteria, Carl Zimmer highlights how MIT startup Synlogic is developing what could be the first FDA-approved synthetic biology-based medical treatment for a disease called phenylketonuria.

CNBC

MIT spinout Ginkgo Bioworks is highlighted on the 2018 CNBC Disruptor 50 list, reports CNBC’s Andrew Zaleski. Zaleski notes that Ginkgo Bioworks, “has developed an automated process for combining genetic parts that has made it the largest designer of printed DNA in the world. That breakthrough has positioned the start-up to change the face of a variety of industries.”

TechCrunch

Led by Prof. Tim Lu, Senti Biosciences has received $53 million in venture capital funding to launch their startup that will focus on cancer therapies, writes Jonathan Shieber for TechCrunch. Ideally, these therapies “are able to be controlled (programmed) at the cellular level and respond to conditions in a variety of ways,” Shieber explains.

Forbes

MIT spinout Ginkgo Bioworks has not only maintained its founding members, but also recently raised $275 million from investors, writes Matthew Herper for Forbes. Herper predicts that excitement surrounding synthetic biology companies will continue because “private money is getting excited about the idea of designing biology.” 

Quartz

MIT researchers have developed a new technique to 3-D print genetically engineered bacteria into a variety of shapes and forms, reports Karen Hao for Quartz. The technique could eventually be used to develop such devices as, “an ingestible living robot that secretes the correct drug when it detects a tumor.”