Daniel Arlow has studied genomics and synthetic biology for the past eighteen years. The arc of his career led the first-time founder of the new startup Ansa Biotechnologies from MIT to the famous Keasling Lab at the University of California at Berkeley and now into the world of startups.
Now Arlow is ready to tell the world what he worked on at Ansa. This is nothing short of delivering the next generation of synthetic DNA manufacturing.
His company is launching a new method of making DNA that Arlow says is faster and more accurate than existing technologies.
“Reading, writing and manipulating DNA is the cornerstone of synthetic biology,” said Seth Bannon. Founding partner of the Frontier investment firm Fifty Years, and an investor in Ansa̵
Arlow is now comparing the state of the industry to the beginning of programming. “If it took three weeks to compile your code or recompile your code to make a simple change, you could never make progress in developing software for the computer,” said Arlow. And that is the state of programmable biology these days.
“It took a long time to test your idea after it was designed. It forces you to plan things much more carefully and to be less spontaneous and less agile, ”he said.
With Ansa, companies can get DNA created based on their specific needs at a speed and size that Arlow says cannot match other companies in the market.
Currently, DNA molecules are made using a 30 year old chemical method that limits the length of the molecules that can be made. In contrast, Ansa’s biologically inspired DNA synthesis method means the company can make long molecules directly without the risk of errors that can arise from patching genetic material together.
The company has developed an enzyme that essentially adds bases to a DNA molecule. The company essentially has a cut and paste feature that unlocks the DNA and then attaches another base.
It’s also important to note that Arlow’s company offers synthesis as a service rather than selling bioprinters that each researcher can use to make their own DNA.
“One of the reasons we’re developing our business as a DNA synthesis service … as opposed to making a printer … is that it allows us to do a much better job of screening jobs for biosafety risks before we manufacture them,” said Arlow.
Other companies like DNA Script (of France) and Nuclera (a Cambridge, UK-based company) will launch bioprinters, which Arlow says will sell them directly to research laboratories.
All of these companies are the next iteration of companies like Twist Bioscience, These are making DNA to fuel the synthetic biology revolution (something TechCrunch Disrupt attendees heard a lot about).
Ansa hasn’t shipped DNA yet, but the company will soon be taking orders to compete in a market that Arlow estimates is now over $ 1 billion and growing quite rapidly.
“Writing really is the bottleneck,” said Arlow. “The business we are in is selling to research and development. The faster we can get the DNA out, the better it is. One reason we’re still pretty bad at engineering biology is because it takes so long to create a new design. I hope if we build more we can design better because we can see what works and what doesn’t. “