“I love being on the frontier of what’s happening. DNA is everything, it’s us, it’s the code for every living creature on the planet. It’s solar power, medicine, everything. The fact that we can now manipulate it at will, that we can sell maker kits and random people can do genetic engineering at home is so exciting. What’s already possible blows my mind, but it’s nothing compared to what’s coming in the next years and I love being a part of that.
Cells can be thought of a little bit like compilers. They run DNA instructions as code. We download sample code from the internet for genes from glowing bacteria, and rewrite that in such a way that it’s readable by a plant. That then gives us a nice DNA sequence, and when we’re ready, we press print. We email the file, this file of ACT and G’s, and boom, there’s an outsourced company that makes the DNA. It takes two weeks, and they ship it back to you in Fedex. It’s kind of crazy if you imagine there’s always pieces of DNA whizzing around in the mail.”
Antony Evans and Kyle Taylor | Glowing Plant
Plants subjected to a previous period of drought learn to deal with the stress thanks to their memories of the previous experience, University of Nebraska-Lincoln research has found.
The findings could lead to development of crops better able to withstand drought.
As the Chief Scientific Officer of Glowing Plant, a company using synthetic biology to create a luminescent Arabidopsis thaliana plant, biologist Kyle Taylor knows a lot about genetically modified organisms. He’d like for the rest of us to know a lot, too.
We thought it was time for some of you to come and meet the plant, so we are hosting an event in San Francisco in two weeks time. We aren’t really sure how many backers are in or near San Francisco so we’ve set capacity initially at 25 people. If more people want to come please join the waitlist and we’ll try to increase the capacity or find a bigger venue.
Backers can register for the event via the link we included in the last backer update, log into your Kickstarter account to get it.
We’ll be demoing the plant we made with Agrobacterium so this is still a prototype.
It’s been another month of solid progress. The biggest news this month is that we signed a contract with a company that can help us clone much longer pieces of DNA much faster. This removes a key bottleneck in the speed with which we can design and test different DNA sequences. The first batch we tested was a mixed success, with 9 out of 14 constructs being made correctly. We will be debugging the process in the next few weeks and hope to soon be able to increase our capacity to test 50 designs every month which should significantly speed up the rate of development of a brighter plant. You can see the improvements we’ve been making in our infrastructure, and how big a jump 50 will be, in this chart of the number of sequences we’ve tested per month:
In order to be able to increase our throughput capacity that much we’ve also had to streamline the processes we use to test the dna sequences. This has required refinements to our existing protocols and testing the changes. We’ve also developed a process for testing the DNA in cotyledons (little baby seedlings) as well as in our transient lead disc cultures.You can read more about the FAST protocol for engineering the cotyledons here:
Jamey got married and went on honeymoon so the protein engineering work progressed more slowly than it usually does. The latest strains are now 3.5 times brighter than the original strain. We’ve been analyzing the mutations we’ve made to uncover what’s making the glow better but so far have only found silent mutations (ie no change to amino acid sequence). We are also redesigning the protocol so that it makes more of the mutations we want to see.
Finally this month we’ve started the regulatory process for the maker kit. Because the kit includes agro-bacterium, which is a plant pest, we have to get a permit from the USDA to ship it. This has required a whole lot of paperwork and even necessitated a trip to a winery near Livermore to register (not such a bad day out!).
So looking forward to meeting some of you in the flesh in a couple of weeks.
The Glowing Plant team
PS A few of you have asked about other DIY Bio / Syn Bio crowdfunding campaigns. The Bay Area DIY Bio labs are launching an Indiegogo campaign on Tuesday to raise funds for their entry into this years iGem competition. It’s the first year that iGem has allowed community labs into the competition so this is exciting. I’ll tweet a link to the campaign once they go live so look out for that if you are interested in supporting Vegan Cheese, it’s going to be found at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/real-vegan-cheese
Also a core part of our mission is educating people about genetics in plants, so we have started offering kits for growing your own mutant plants. The idea of these kits are that you can see the amazing variation in plants phenotype based on small genetic changes. In the seed kit you get a random assortment of mutant plant seeds which you can grow to see the differences and learn about genetics. You can get these from our etsy store (they ship in a few weeks): https://www.etsy.com/listing/194439012/mutant-seeds-what-surprise-mutant-plants
Tinkerers, dreamers and makers are forging a new breed of biotech researcher. But whether do-it-yourself science stays a hobby — or creates the Steve Jobs of biotech — is not yet certain.
Kyle talks about his motivations and how he ended up our chief scientist.