Senior Director, R&D Program Management
Synthetic biology is a rapidly growing field based on engineering the design, re-design, and construction of living things for useful purposes such as renewable energy, waste management, consumer product ingredients, and producing medicine. By turning organisms into living factories, chemicals previously attainable only through expensive extractions or the use of non-renewable resources can be produced and sustainably manufactured.
Amyris Inc. (NASDAQ: AMRS), based in Emeryville, California, delivers high-performance renewable products across a wide range of consumer and industry segments. Among the company’s achievements in synthetic biology is developing a way to modify the way microorganisms (primarily yeast) process sugar in fermentation processes to convert plant-sourced sugars into target molecules.
The company first used its proprietary process to convert plant-sugars into an alternative, lower cost, stable supply of artemisinin, an effective anti-malarial. Now, these life-saving drugs are more readily accessible to vulnerable populations that need them the most.
To date, the company has industrialized three unique hydrocarbon molecules and has a long pipeline of new molecules in development. From these renewable molecules, Amyris is developing a wide range of renewable specialty chemicals ranging from cosmetic emollients and fragrances to fuels and lubricants and even biopharmaceutical applications.
Sunil Chandran|Sr. Director, R&D Program Management
Amyris scientist Victor Holmes describes the system as “fantastic,” and achieving great performance in every application they have tried. "It can move from any well of a multi-well plate to any well of a multi-well plate, and it does so tremendously fast.”
Speed, cost savings and reduced environmental impact are key benefits to Amyris scientists, describing the Labcyte system as about 10 times faster than traditional liquid handlers. And, because the reactions are smaller: “we can do more with less money. Another benefit is it reduces our need to use plastic tips every time we run a reaction, so this saves money and also saves all that plastic… and that is great for the environment.”
In a recent paper published in ACS Synthetic Biology, Amyris scientists described the use of the Labcyte Echo system to dramatically reduce the cost of sequencing plasmids for next-generation sequencing QC. Previously, NGS protocols were not optimized to enable the cost-effective sequencing of plasmids. Given the importance of plasmid libraries in applications such as gene synthesis, DNA assembly, enzyme engineering, amplicon sequencing, and library deconvolution, the team needed a more efficient way to support the trial-and-error process that requires building and testing tens to thousands of DNA assemblies.
By combining an Illumina MiSeq platform with a Labcyte Echo acoustic liquid dispensing system, Amyris researchers achieved approximately a 20-fold reduction in cost from Sanger sequencing for the plasmid sequencing. The authors wrote that they “developed a rigorous, low-cost QC method that enables complete sequencing of almost every DNA assembly built by a high-throughput operation.”
Dr. Chandran says the Echo Liquid Handler has been a very good investment for Amyris. “Our goal is to get a product to market, so any kind of platform that allows us to do the same amount of work in less time, at less cost, is going to be an integral part of our pipeline. The Labcyte Echo liquid handler fits that description.”
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