SSI Biology Unveils New DNA Synthesizer Design

How do you construct the first ever DNA synthesizer to operate in space?

This is the challenge that Stanford SSI’s brand new Biology team is tackling as it races to complete a functional device by the end of Spring Quarter. Controlling temperature, ensuring that all reagents needed for the addition of nucleotides to a single strand of DNA are compatible, and verifying that the scientific endeavor was successfully completed is no simple task. To tackle this difficult task, SSI Biology created a minimally viable product (MVP) design it had the pleasure of unveiling at the Uytengsu Teaching Lab Spring Showcase.

The device design is simple, compact and elegant.

The core of the minimally viable product design is a clear, biosafe plastic container for our DNA synthesis reagents, which include the enzyme that builds the DNA strand and a complementary single DNA strand that will bind to our product. This capsule will be encased in aluminum for temperature regulation, using Peltier modules or another heat source to activate the synthesis reaction. An LED and a photodiode will be focused on the synthesis chamber, exploiting the fluorescence of chemicals that bind to DNA to determine that the DNA sequence was elongated.

This design was unveiled on April 13th at the Uytengsu Teaching Lab Spring Showcase, an opportunity for undergraduate student groups to present to faculty, students, representatives from DNA synthesis companies and NASA researchers. We had the privilege of learning from experts in the field the difficulties that we will surely face as we approach a launch, as well as gaining technical feedback that our members are presently incorporating into the design. 

As far as we have come, there is undoubtedly still a lot to be done. If you would like to be involved or have questions about this project, please contact co-leads Alan Tomusiak ([email protected]) and Cynthia Hao ([email protected]).

We would like to extend a special thanks to the Uytengsu Teaching Lab managers, Mong Saetern and Jeffrey Tok, without whom this presentation would not have been possible.

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