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DNA tool kit goes live online

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– Standard control sequences aim to make genetic engineering more predictable.

The latest shopping website is open for business, offering unusual wares: DNA tools to help biologists to engineer life.

The DNA sequences — which allow precise control of gene activity in the bacterium Escherichia coli — are the first output of BIOFAB, based in Emery­ville, California, which calls itself “the world’s first biological design-build facility”. Launched in 2009 with a US$1.4-million grant from the US National Science Foundation, BIOFAB aims to advance synthetic biology by creating standard biological ‘parts’ in the form of DNA sequences that control gene expression. These standard sequences should allow biologists to engineer cells that can make medicines and perform other useful tasks simply by plugging in various sets of genes.

The sequences are meant to overcome a key barrier to synthetic biology: genes inserted into an organism do not behave predictably, even in such a well-understood workhorse as E. coli. “You would think after a generation of genetic engineering, expressing genes with precision in an organism as well utilized as E. coliwould be pretty straightforward. It turns out it’s not,” says BIOFAB co-director Drew Endy, a synthetic biologist at Stanford University in California.

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