In the last few years, the range of materials that can be 3D printed has widened considerably. Soon, DNA may join the list of materials that can be used in the additive manufacturing process, thanks to new research conducted at the University of California Berkeley. The new method for synthesizing DNA developed over the course of that research project may reduce the cost of creating genetic code artificially, while at the same time making the process more accurate.
The Future of DNA Synthesis
Using present methods, genes can only be synthesized by splicing together artificial strings of DNA that are about 200 base molecules long. Since individual genes can require 1,500 or more bases, this process is long, inefficient and expensive. The method for DNA synthesis developed recently at Berkeley, though, changes that by using an enzyme normally found in cells that can facilitate the creation of longer DNA strands.
This method is still quite experimental, though. The research team hopes to be able to achieve 99.9 percent gene fidelity in the near future. With that level of accuracy, the new process would be able to create high-quality engineered genes of 1,000 bases or more. Compared to the current limit of about 200 bases, that increase in potential length would represent an enormous improvement in DNA synthesis.
Though the devices themselves haven’t yet been developed, the Berkeley team has high hopes that their method could one day lead to the creation of 3D printers for DNA. Such devices could greatly expedite the process of creating artificial genetic information for agricultural and medical purposes. At the moment, a single gene can take weeks to create. Once 3D printing of DNA becomes a technological reality, that process could be reduced to as little as a single day. As in many other fields, the ability to quickly iterate with 3D printing could lead to great strides in genetic engineering, allowing scientists to develop multiple versions of a gene to achieve the best possible results from it.
The Future of 3D Printing
Advances toward 3D printing of complex materials such as DNA are now occurring each and every year. Within the next several years, these methods will gradually move out of university labs and out into the real world to be used by the next generation of engineers, doctors and manufacturing professionals. To prepare them for a world that may be heavily dependent on 3D printing technology, today’s students need to be taught the basics of using 3D printings and creating 3D designs. Classroom 3D printers, like those made by Me3D, are perfect tools for helping students discover the immense potential of additive manufacturing technology.