Long strand oligonucleotide synthesis continues to be limited by its diminishing returns, with a current maximum length of ~ 250 bases. As a general rule, one of every 100 molecules will fail to couple, meaning that the average synthesis run is said to have a coupling efficiency (CE) of 99%. The formula, CEn, where n is the number of bases added during synthesis, states the longer the strand generated, the more failure strands will be produced. For example, synthesis of a 40 base strand with a 99% CE will generate 68% full-length product (FLP) as opposed to synthesis of a 200 base strand, which will yield 13% FLP with the same CE. While there are other factors that may influence CE (i.e. synthesis parameters and quality of reagents), the main problem is inadequate accessibility of reagent to each of the molecules on the surface of the solid substrate (i.e. polystyrene beads or controlled-pore-glass). The most common case is when beads are packaged inside a column sandwiched between two porous filters; here, stacking of beads causes reduced surface area exposure to synthesis reagents, whereby DNA molecules become unreacted or only partially reacted. Moreover, spent reagents and unwanted byproducts become trapped within the support and carry over into consecutive cycles, further contaminating the synthesis run. To circumvent these limitations, we propose a novel method that allows us to control the actions of an individual bead through dielectrophoresis on a plasmonic surface. Here, reactions are tuned to completely encapsulate each bead with minimal volume reagent droplets for high-precision synthesis. Because each bead is isolated in solution, byproducts cannot become trapped, and each has maximum contact with all synthesis reagents; it is this intimate 1:1 ratio of bead to reagent that will significantly increase the base addition efficiency allowing the production of ultra-long strands of DNA > 1000 bases. Until very recently, far-field optics (i.e. optical tweezers) could not be applied at the nano-scale due to diffraction-limited focused spot size; therefore, researchers began studying effects of plasmonic nanostructures where light waves are concentrated directly onto the bead. In our platform, reagent droplets of precise volume and concentration are formed by pulsed laser cavitation; droplets are then transported along the plasmonic surface to encapsulate individual beads by overcoming surface tension barrier using dielectrophoretic forces generated by an AC electrical field. Thus, this approach of encapsulating a bead into a droplet and pulling it out can be employed for a large range of droplet and bead sizes with the appropriate electrode design. We believe the key to maximizing oligonucleotide purity and yield during synthesis lies in determining the minimal volume/concentration of each reagent necessary to coat the surface of an individual bead. With our proposed platform of synthesis on a plasmonic surface, we have the capability to address each individual bead for an accurate, optimized ratio of bead to reagent droplet of defined concentration. These developments are necessary to realize the full potential of synthetic biology, by making large-scale projects accessible to the entire community that will fuel discoveries in genome biology and medicine.
Our ability to generate high-quality oligonucleotide strands > 250 bases is seriously restricted by inadequate accessibility of reagent to each of the DNA molecules on the surface of the solid substrate using current, state-of-the-art synthesis platforms. To circumvent these limitations, we propose a novel method that allows us to control the actions of an individual bead through dielectrophoresis on a plasmonic surface, where reactions are tuned to completely encapsulate each bead with minimal volume reagent droplets for high-precision synthesis. It is this intimate 1:1 ratio of bead to reagent droplet that will significantly increase the base addition efficiency allowing the production of ultra-long strands of ssDNA > 1000 bases.