Why it is about time to democratize DNA & RNA
Artificially synthesized DNA and RNA can confidently be called the foundations of life sciences. Hardly any bio lab worldwide can do without customized, usually rather short pieces of 20-50 bases building blocks in length (“oligos”) – after all, PCR is by far the most frequently used working method in life sciences and requires customized oligos.
Against this backdrop, it is remarkable that most bio labs are currently unable to synthesize these oligos themselves, but have to order them online from external manufacturers. Under optimal circumstances, delivery may be made in one day if all you need is simple standard DNA and you work near a production facility.
In reality, two factors can extend the delivery time to weeks or even months. Firstly, when modified DNA such as TaqMan probes, RNA or even modified RNA is required, large synthesis service companies can only streamline the production of a few standard products for reasons of efficiency. Secondly, if laboratories are located in peripheral regions, such as Eastern Europe, South America, South-East Asia or Africa, import is usually very time consuming as synthesis service companies are highly centralized and located far away from said areas.
Even a waiting time of a single day for DNA can significantly delay development processes that follow the design-test-build cycle and require new custom DNA several times throughout the process. Needless to say, this problem becomes severely aggravated when delivery times extend to weeks or even months.
The Corona pandemic in particular has exposed another serious weakness that is brought on by out-sourcing oligo production: the high dependence on a few manufacturers. It is an irony of history that the very life science industry that should be working as quickly as possible to identify and combat pandemic diseases has partially been paralyzed by the current pandemic. DNA manufacturers have been unable to meet the high demands as production was hampered or at times came to a halt due to the pandemic. In turn, manufacturers became dependent on delivery services, which also suffered from bottlenecks.
Finally, DNA & RNA sequences sometimes constitute highly sensitive data, which are the result or intermediate steps of enormously valuable research. To leave the production to external companies means to necessarily disclose this data and thus open the door to potential data theft. Whether during transmission, as data packages on external servers, during external manufacturing itself, or in the course of delivery – there is a multitude of potential points of attack.
What will the near future look like?
It is hard to imagine that the life science industry will continue to rely on full out-sourcing of a core area in view of the serious disadvantages listed above, when suitable in-house solutions are readily available. With our cartridge & microfluidic-based synthesizer Kilobaser, we have for the first time created a solution that allows every researcher to produce DNA, RNA and modified products themselves in the laboratory in a cost-efficient, fast and convenient way.
You want to learn more about kilobaser?
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