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A New Way to Synthesize DNA

Photo of Professor Albert Keung
Professor Albert Keung

Professor Albert Keung and his colleagues have been approved to receive funding from the Chancellor’s Innovation Fund (CIF) to further their research around developing a new method to synthesize DNA that contains diverse chemical modifications.

Modified DNA is pivotal in processes across the life sciences, from fundamental research to biotechnology. But the way synthetic DNA is created currently comes down to a set of organic chemistry reactions, which can have harsh consequences on any modifications that one wishes to incorporate. Ultimately, that means scientists have a relatively limited number of modifications available at their disposal. It’s also very challenging to make more granular modifications; that is, at specific points within a letter.

The Keung team has discovered a way to use enzymatic synthesis — a gentler process — to make DNA carrying modifications. The technique could open the door to over one hundred new kinds of modifications — and allow the industry as a whole to synthesize modified DNA more sustainably and for far less money.

CIF support will be used to help establish quality control measurements that will prove whether the new technique can achieve product specifications comparable to current industry standards.

Established by Chancellor Woodson in 2010, the CIF mission is to support campus researchers as they turn their discoveries into market-ready solutions. Each year, a select few promising proposals are chosen based on their likelihood of market success — as well as their potential societal benefits.

The CIF has granted nearly $4.5 million to 75 projects — which have attracted over $78 million in follow-on funding. These projects have led to 34 startup companies, 63 commercialization agreements and $2.5 million in licensing revenue. Since FY 2017, ten projects that include significant participation by CBE faculty and students have received CIF funding.

The original version of this article appears on the NC State University News website.