Meet the Inventor: Synthetic Biology Patent
This week, we announced our first synthetic biology patent. This work, Recombinant phage and methods, contributes to our unique process of phage engineering which is the building block for DETECT/L, our in-shift Listeria assay. I sat down with Dan Brownell, one of the inventors, to get the scoop:
Dan, congratulations on your patent! That is quite an accomblishment. Can you describe in layman's terms what this patent covers?
This patent covers a method for engineering phages. What that means is the ability to change or modify the biology of the phage so that it can do novel things (like light up) in addition to its normal processes. This is how we can use phage to detect Listeria.
The challenge of engineering phages is that they naturally reproduce when they interact with their target bacteria, however, they also kill their target in the process which makes it tricky to make changes. To get around this, we used yeast, a fungus, as the target instead of the bacteria.
The other challenge in engineering phages is that it is a fair amount of trial and error to see what changes should be made, and where they should be made in order to get the desired effect. You need an environment where you can try lots of different modifications easily and see what works and what doesn't.
This engineering technique forms a sandbox where we can make modifications, try things, without causing any other problems.
And how does that make DETECT possible?
DETECT uses engineered phage to locate bacteria, like Listeria, and produce light so that they can be detected. To make this work, the phage needs to include the reporter in its genome, through engineering. Tools that make this easier, faster, like this yeast method are incredibly important in development.
What was the most exciting part of this work?
The most exciting part is that it worked! It is also pretty neat to be able to take large pieces of DNA into the yeast platform, modify them, and get them out the other side.
Would this type of approach work for other organisms?
Yes. We have tried it with E. Coli and Salmonella phages and it can work for other organisms. Some are harder than others depending on the biology of the organism. This is a very strong platform for phages and other viruses as well.
Synthetic biology is a hot topic right. What do you think is the most exciting thing going on in the space?
CRISPR is a huge topic right now and that very exciting. But synthetic biology is such a new field with huge potential to do all sorts of things. There are probably 10 other things like CRISPR out there that we haven't seen yet. The initial efforts, proof of concept, can be a bit silly - like modifying bacteria to smell like bananas but the potential is limitless!
Thanks Dan and congratulations to you and the whole development team on your patent. Food safety needs innovative technologies and at Sample6, we are proud to play our part.
Together, we can make food safer.