​What is synthetic DNA and what is it used for?

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​What is synthetic DNA and what is it used for?

You don’t hear much about it in the Netherlands, but in the rest of the world there is constant news about synthetic DNA. For example, there are gigantic life science companies such as Twist Bioscience, Eurofins Genomics and GenScript. A lot of money is involved in this industry, because there are also many applications. But what is it and what is it used for?

Synthetic DNA

DNA is one of the few natural substances that can store information (the other is RNA). We know how important DNA is, because we have it ourselves. Our DNA carries our genetic material. No wonder scientists find DNA extremely interesting and try to make some kind of artificial copies. The aim is even to completely recreate the genome: it contains all the information needed to build an organism. The genome is the complete package of genetic instructions of an organism.

Synthetic is man-made while natural DNA is made by mother nature. Fake versus real, although the boundaries between the two are becoming increasingly blurred. For example, proteins have now been developed that can convert synthetic DNA into natural DNA. It also works the other way around and means that genetic material can be copied. That is a bit creepy, but at the moment it is only used in laboratories and science is not yet ready for full use. Good to know: synthetic DNA is also called XNA.

Artificial life

Enough technical aspects of DNA: what can that synthetic stuff do? The idea is, among other things, to help produce new medication, because it could possibly help fight cancer. But it can also go further: artificial life can also be created. It touches on genetic modification a bit, but the difference is that no existing DNA is modified, DNA is created from scratch.

For example, bacteria are now being designed with the intention that they should eventually help the world with the production of cleaner energy. Work is also being done on DNA as a kind of USB stick: that DNA is used instead of a data center, because DNA molecules need much less space to store information. Despite the fact that little news is reported about it, it is certainly not the case that little is happening in the Netherlands in the field of synthetic DNA. For example, DSM has modified the fungus Penicillium Notatum in such a way that it can be used as an antibiotic against bacterial infections.

Vaccines

We as the Dutch are also probably an interesting nation for scientists. What this artificial DNA is also used for is to conduct research and come up with solutions related to human growth. We can be an example in this with our long bodies. Many Dutch people, like many other citizens of the world, have long been in contact with synthetic material. Very close contact even: for example, there is synthetically constructed mRNA in the corona vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.

Synthetic DNA (and RNA) is extremely important for the medical world and ultimately for us as well. There seems to be a huge demand for synthetic DNA and the market is only expected to grow. And yes, with it the applications.

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