Capacity, Accuracy, and Cost
Gen9's innovation in gene synthesis enables significantly higher capacity, improved fidelity compared to other approaches, and, most importantly, dramatically lower costs. Taken together, these three advantages will enable expanded use of DNA constructs in industries and applications that had not previously considered them a real possibility before because of cost and availability barriers.
By the end of 2012, Gen9 had the technology and capacity to produce approximately 50% of the world's current supply of synthetic DNA. We estimate that sometime in 2013 technological improvements to the BioFab platform will enable us to double the global capacity of synthetic DNA production. With that kind of rapid increase, there will be enough reliable synthetic DNA to make this an interesting, and eventually indispensable, source of experimental tools across a range of industries.
As the length of constructs increases, the issue of accuracy becomes a larger concern. Until now, it has been a major sticking point in producing longer DNA constructs. The Gen9 platform is the first commercial technology that will enable the production of long, error-free stretches of DNA in large volumes and at affordable prices. With high-accuracy constructs in the multiple-Kbp range, scientists in biology and many other industrial fields will be able to study the behavior of full genes, metabolic pathways, distant genetic elements, genomes, and new aspects of DNA that cannot currently be interrogated, or even created, with synthetic constructs.
The current average cost for an oligo construct is close to 40 cents per base. That number has slowly come down over the last few years but, without a major technological leap, it probably will not change measurably in the coming years. This price of 40 cents, while a vast improvement over what people had to pay for oligos 10 or 15 years ago, is still prohibitive for scientists who want to use gene constructs in a high-throughput manner. In addition, when the size of the desired constructs becomes multiple Kbp, this price soars to the dollars-per-base pair range. While the current price may be acceptable for academic biology labs that use only a handful of gene constructs at a time, it is a deal-breaker for the industrial-scale screening processes implemented at major corporations that could otherwise make use of synthetic DNA. Because the Gen9 platform can scale in an exponential way, we anticipate being able to drive costs even lower as we ramp up production.
Just as improved DNA sequencing enabled a shift in focus from studying individual genes to examining a whole genome or multiple genomes at once, this improvement in gene synthesis foreshadows much the same shift in synthetic biology. As costs come down, scientists will be able to move from synthesizing individual genes to whole pathways or even full genomes. For example, the first known synthetic genome was produced by Craig Venter and a team of researchers at a cost of $40 million. Bringing that price tag down exponentially in the coming years will make these types of synthetic biology projects far more feasible in industry and academia.