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Illustration of mechanized DNA for artilce on synthetic biology.
Published On: May 17th, 2022

Synthetic biology refers to an interdisciplinary branch of bioengineering in which scientists create or change biological systems. Currently, most synthetic biology applications relate to the metabolites produced by genetically modified organisms. For example, instead of yeast that ferments sugar into alcohol, consider a yeast that transforms agricultural waste into surfactants for cleaning products.Synthetic biology relies on trial and error since it’s very difficult to compute or predict exactly how well a synthetic gene sequence will work. Synthetic biology requires a high throughput to find that “needle in a haystack”. For this reason, synthetic biology automation is necessary for labs to create functional bioparts. In this article, each step of the synthetic biology pipeline will be associated with the synthetic biology automation that make this complex scientific process feasible for everyday labs.

Automated Liquid Handling Systems

The gene must be assembled before a new genetic sequence can be inserted into yeast or another microorganism. Automated Liquid handling systems can assemble oligos into genes.

Once synthetic genes have been assembled, they must be introduced to bacterial cells. Liquid handling systems can normalize DNA distribution across the wells of a plate. As a result, automated liquid handling systems are one of the most versatile pieces of robotic lab equipment since nearly every process requires precise distribution of liquids.

Later, when cell culture samples need to be distributed across plates, automated liquid handling systems can perform colony plating. For the most successful outcome, using a precise cell culture is necessary.

In synthetic biology automation, liquid handlers are useful during many stages. Automated liquid handling systems increase throughput and replicability from gene assembly to plasmid prep.

Automated Thermal Cycler for PCR

Most people are familiar with PCR because of its popularity in diagnostic testing and COVID testing most recently. However, the same nucleic acid amplification that makes PCR so valuable for diagnostic tests is useful for amplifying DNA once it’s been synthesized. Another valuable tool in a synthetic biology automation plan is a thermal cycler to automate PCR.

Automated Colony Pickers

After assembling genes, introducing synthetic genes into microbial cells, and plating cells to allow single cells to grow into colonies, the individual colonies must be picked to isolate them and grow them into higher density for further processing or analysis. Manual colony picking is a painstaking process. Computer imaging makes automated colony pickers a natural choice for synthetic biology labs with high throughput requirements.

Automated colony pickers use a camera to image the colonies on a plate. Image analysis software can recognize many differences in microbe colonies and select a target colony based on visual cues. Automated colony pickers then pick the target colonies and inoculate wells of a microplate with growth media to allow the picked colonies to multiply and grow to a density that will support further research.

Synthetic Biology Automation from Start to Finish

Synthetic biology requires a high throughput lab to develop and test synthetically altered cells. Across all major parts of the synthetic biology pipeline, automation tools can help. Thermal cyclers, liquid handling systems, and automated colony pickers are the most popular tools for synthetic biology automation. If you are looking to incorporate synthetic biology automation tools into your lab, contact Hudson Robotics for a free quote or assistance choosing the right equipment.