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Canada’s first Genome Foundry is using robots to build synthetic genomes

This new Concordia facility brings automation to the rapidly evolving field of synthetic biology — and it’s ‘a monumental addition to the ecosystem’
August 6, 2018
Vincent Martin, co-director of the Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology, says the Genome Foundry “empowers us to navigate uncharted waters.” | Photo by Concordia University

A new facility at Concordia houses robots that will bring massive increases in the speed and scale of synthetic biology research.

The Genome Foundry is the first Canadian laboratory of its kind, and among only a handful at leading institutions around the world. By automating notoriously labour-intensive lab work, it will eliminate bottlenecks in a rapidly evolving field where the design principles of engineering fuse with the tools of biology to create meaningful synthetic biological systems.

“The Genome Foundry solidifies Concordia’s position as the Canadian leader in synthetic biology research, and will enable our scientists to work at the cutting-edge while facilitating partnerships with other institutions,” says Christophe Guy, vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies.

“Given that Concordia researchers are already engaged internationally in defining the future of this field, we are eager to witness how this new facility will support the transformative work being done at our university.”

Currently, much of the lab work done by synthetic biologists involves moving and combining small amounts of liquids and cells. The Genome Foundry’s robotics allow for speed and absolute precision, greatly increasing the variety and number of experiments that can be completed, and the accuracy with which they can be reproduced.

A research platform for the future

The Genome Foundry was established with funds from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the government of Quebec, and is part of Concordia’s synthetic biology hub along with the Centre for Applied Synthetic Biology (CASB), the SynBioApps NSERC CREATE program and the soon-to-be-inaugurated District 3 Innovation Centre science hub.

“We are thrilled to open the doors of our Genome Foundry,” says Vincent Martin, co-director of the CASB.

“This is a monumental addition to Canada’s synthetic biology ecosystem. It empowers us to navigate uncharted waters alongside our international colleagues, and to incubate the future leaders of our field.”

The CASB aims to develop high-value applications in human health, agriculture, chemicals and environmental technologies. It also provides a broad range of unique opportunities — such as the recently announced NSERC CREATE SynBioApps program — for training leading experts in the field.

Canadian expertise, global impacts

Launching this technology platform also marks Canada’s participation in the next generation of synthetic biology, with Concordia now engaged in directing how this infrastructure will be developed and used on a global scale.

In June 2018, Concordia’s Genome Foundry platform coordinator Nicholas Gold attended the Global Biofoundry Meeting at Imperial College London. At the two-day event, representatives of 15 leading genome foundries from around the world committed to sharing knowledge and expertise in order to establish a global alliance for greater cooperation.

The Concordia Genome Foundry’s opening will be announced at the first meeting of Genome Project-Write Canada in Montreal, on August 13 and 14. This international research project aims to synthesize genomes in humans and other organisms. More than 200 contributors representing 15 countries are involved in the initiative.

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, Concordia, and the Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology.

Learn more about the people who are using Concordia’s Genome Foundry, and how it is accelerating their research.

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