Entry Date:
November 3, 2016

A Platform for High Throughput Genetic Transformation of Bacteria

Principal Investigator Cullen Buie

Project Start Date September 2016

Project End Date
 February 2018

AIR Technology Translation project focuses on translating next generation microfluidic genetic transformation technologies to fill the need for high throughput generation of genetically modified microorganisms. This system will allow metabolic engineers to more rapidly develop microorganisms for the production of various bioengineered chemicals and materials. This novel genetic transformation system is important because the fields of synthetic biology and genetic engineering are currently limited by the ability to re-program microorganisms with foreign DNA. This project will result in a prototype high throughput genetic transformation platform to demonstrate the utility of the system. This genetic transformation platform will be able to process microorganisms nearly one hundred times faster than the current state of the art.

This project addresses the following technology gap(s) as it translates from research discovery toward commercial application. Electroporation, cell permeabilization using pulsed electric fields, is an efficient way to deliver DNA constructs into microorganisms for genetic engineering and synthetic biology applications. Standard electroporation protocols involve parallel plate cuvettes to expose cell and DNA samples to uniform electric fields. However, testing different electroporation conditions involves hundreds of experiments (e.g. varying DNA construct, cell type, buffer composition), which is slow, labor-intensive, and expensive. This project aims to develop a prototype high throughput platform for genetic transformation of bacteria using microfluidic flow-through electroporation. The prototype device will be operated in 1) large scale production of bioengineered chemicals and 2) in a discovery mode to identify optimal transformation protocols for genetic engineering. This scalable technology will accelerate the development of new bioengineered chemicals that can be manufactured in a renewable manner.

Personnel involved in this project, research scientists, postdocs, and undergraduate students, will receive innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology translation experiences through participation in prototype design, customer interviews, business plan competitions, engaging with mentors, and establishing a company to commercialize the technology. The project engages the MIT Venture Mentoring Services and the MIT Innovation Initiative to guide commercialization aspects in this technology translation effort from research discovery toward commercial reality.