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NSF grant to launch world's first open-source genetic parts production facility

With seed money from the National Science Foundation (NSF), bioengineers from the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University are ramping up efforts to characterize the thousands of control elements critical to the engineering of microbes so that eventually, researchers can mix and match these "DNA parts" in synthetic organisms to produce new drugs, fuels or chemicals.

Today, a single designer microbe can take years to create and cost tens of millions of dollars, since each control element a promoter or transcription factor has to be identified, characterized and tweaked in order to be reused. One UC Berkeley project to engineer microbes to produce the anti-malarial drug artemisinin took 10 years to get out of the lab into small-scale production, at a cost of $25 million.

The new effort, called the BIOFAB: International Open Facility Advancing Biotechnology (BIOFAB), aims to produce thousands of free, standardized DNA parts to shorten the development time and lower the cost of synthetic biology for academic or biotech laboratories. The BIOFAB has received two years of funding from the NSF and matching support from founding partners Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the BioBricks Foundation (BBF), a non-profit organization that supports and promotes the use of synthetic biology.

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