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Genome Foundry positions Concordia at the forefront of synthetic biology, says CASB co-founder Vincent Martin

By Jordan Keenan

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For microbiologist Vincent Martin, the opening of Concordia’s Genome Foundry is a very big deal.

“Synthetic biology and the use of genome foundries are really the next step,” he says. “Having this kind of facility allows us to move to the next level and ask bigger questions in biology: how may an organism be influenced when its genes are re-organized? Can an organism thrive without certain genes?”

The co-director of Concordia’s Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology, Martin says the Genome Foundry will free up researchers and students from the often tedious and sometimes inaccurate work that consumes much of their lab time. By using robots to carry out the kinds of tasks that require repetition and attention, such as moving liquids from a pipette to a cylinder, biologists are free to conduct a larger number of experiments with greater speed and precision than ever before.

“Researchers used to be able to manipulate one, two, maybe 10 genes at a time,” he says. “Now they can come to the Genome Foundry and work on thousands of genes at a time.”

He adds that the Genome Foundry is also a valuable learning tool, as the robotics used there are widely used in the private sector. This, he says, will prepare today’s students to become tomorrow’s leading researchers and entrepreneurs.

It also will position Concordia as the leader in synthetic biology in Canada while it builds bridges with institutions across the globe. Having world-class equipment helps draw leading researchers to Concordia and opens up opportunities for the university’s faculty to interact with other institutions.

“Genome foundries are emerging all over the world, from Singapore and Australia to the United States and the UK,” he says. “We’re trying to create a global network of the foundries in order to be able to standardize the way we do things. This way we can exchange our material and information internationally, speak the same language and collaborate better.”

This interdisciplinary facility enables collaboration between biologists like Martin and those from many other fields including biochemistry, engineering, genetics, and more.

The opening of Concordia’s Genome Foundry will be officially announced at the first Genome Project-write Canada meeting on August 13. Martin and Bogumil Karas, an assistant professor in biochemistry at Western University, are hosting the two-day meeting, which is a satellite event of the International Biotechnology Symposium. The event received support from Génome Québec, Ontario Genomics, the National Research Council Canada and the Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology.



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