The broader impact/commercial potential of this I-Corps project will be to provide a fully automated and versatile biological foundry technology biotechnology to accelerate the biotechnology research and development (R&D). Biotechnology industry spends over $35 billion/year on research and development world-wide. However, the current R&D process mainly relies on manual work of highly experienced research scientists. Such manual operation is slow, expensive, and prone to human errors, which has constrained the growth of this industry. The application of such fully automated and highly versatile biofoundry may help biotech companies greatly expedite their R&D and reduce the cost. Thus, the risk of R&D can be further reduced to enable the development of more bio-based specialty chemicals, fuels, pollution remediation, as well as healthcare products for the market. Initial work suggest the biofoundry technology may have an initial opportunity in the strain development market for fermentation companies.
This I-Corps project proposes to study the specific markets for the advanced biomanufacturing technologies. The first prototype of such a robotic platform has demonstrated its throughput and versatility in the proof-of-concept studies. It is capable of conducting most molecular and cellular biology experiments with minimal human intervention. With its modular hardware and software systems, this platform can be rapidly reconfigured to a variety of tasks for engineering biological systems. The modular system architecture also allows programming of long and complex workflows that were very difficult to implement in previous lab automation systems. When used for assembling complex DNA molecules, it achieved a throughput of over 400 constructs/day with close to 100% success rate. Such throughput and consistency was unattainable by conventional manual operations. Such capacity opens the door to fast prototyping of biological systems by in silico design, such as proteins, cells, and plants.