UK's first robotic DNA production facility opens in Edinburgh

Scientists are marking the opening of the first fully automated DNA production facility in the UK.

The Edinburgh Genome Foundry will design and test DNA. Picture: University of Edinburgh.
The Edinburgh Genome Foundry will design and test DNA. Picture: University of Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh Genome Foundry will design, build and test large sections of DNA - the building blocks of life - using large-scale robotic processes.

Researchers at the facility are seeking to create and modify long strands of DNA that can be used to equip cells or organisms with new or improved functions.

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Its products could lead to advances such as programming stem cells for use in personalised medicines, developing bacteria that can detect disease in the gut, or altering the DNA of biofuel crops to enable a higher yield.

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Researchers at the Foundry, housed at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, will design and manufacture genetic material on an unprecedented scale. They will be able to design and build large, complex pieces of DNA code quickly at relatively low cost.

The facility will support an international project to synthesis the entire genome of yeast, a model organism for research into living systems. An international team of researchers, led by scientists from Edinburgh, has already created the first chromosome of synthetic yeast.

The Foundry is primarily funded by the Research Councils UK’s Synthetic Biology for Growth Programme.

Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “The UK is home to the discovery of the DNA double-helix, a ground-breaking moment in modern science. An even greater understanding of DNA, and the ability to construct and modify it will lead to untold scientific discoveries that could save millions of lives around the world.

“Through the investment by the Government, the Edinburgh Genome Foundry will ensure the UK leads the way in pioneering these new medicines.”

Professor Susan Rosser, Co-Director of the Foundry, and Chair in Synthetic Biology at the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are excited to be opening the Edinburgh Genome Foundry, which will allow us to construct DNA on a large scale and will support synthetic biology in the UK. This will help us both interrogate how cells and organisms operate and realise the many economically important applications of synthetic biology.”

Professor Patrick Cai, Co-Director of the Foundry, said: “The Edinburgh Genome Foundry, as the UK’s largest integrated national facility for automated DNA synthesis assembly, will play a key role in ushering in major developments in the field.”