Evolution machine: genetic engineering on fast forward

July 5, 2011 | Source: New Scientist Life

(Credit: stock image)

George Church, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, thinks there is a quicker route to genetic engineering: let evolution do all the hard work.

The idea is to come up with a relatively rough design, create lots of variants on this design and select the ones that work best.

The first “evolution machine” was built by Harris Wang, a graduate student in Church’s lab. To prove it worked, he started with a strain of the E. coli bacterium. The machine let the E. coli multiply, mixed them with the DNA, and opened up the cells to get the DNA inside.

The effect was to create new variants of the targeted genes while leaving the rest of the genome untouched. Repeating the cycle 35 times generated an estimated 15 billion new strains.

It took Wang just three days to do better than the biosynthesis industry has managed in years.