BRIEF: Designer Genes: Integrated DNA Technologies Offers Made-to-Order DNA Oligos

PC-based control platform reduces cost by $4,500 per system; smaller machine footprint effectively doubles system throughput

By Josh Olson, Beckhoff Automation

The made-to-order trend is not limited to the consumer space. Even biotech research organizations are utilizing highly custom synthetic genetic material to advance discovery. This type of research represents the upper echelons of scientific progress in the pharmaceutical, agricultural, academic, and other life science markets.

Research scientists use custom-made DNA sequences of various lengths and with unique modifications to drive genetic discovery. These custom manufactured nucleic acid sequences, or oligonucleotides, are often referred to as "oligos."

Oligos are typically short, single-stranded, synthetic DNA or RNA molecules that provide the basic tools for molecular biology research and forensics. Oligos are chemically manufactured through a process called solid-phase synthesis.

The incredible variation inherent in research requires this type of customization, often with very specific composition and on a tight timeline. Integrated DNA Technologies, based in Coralville, Iowa, fills this niche in the market, providing these customized molecular biology products for diverse application areas. 

Efforts to make their manufacturing processes faster, more precise and more efficient led to IDT's creation of the M1 DNA Synthesizer, the company's newest oligo manufacturing machine. The M1 makes it easier to offer customers a wider array of options, increasing support of non-standard products, as switching time for materials has been drastically reduced with the new design.

When it comes to the size or composition of a customer-requested oligo, IDT does not like to say no. Customers have an almost limitless number of options to choose from when ordering their synthetic nucleic acids.

As customer demands continue to grow and change, IDT has remained up to the task, continuing to offer new and exciting products. Speed and space constraints were key determining factors in specifying a new controls platform. IDT pitted different control system options against one another and, when the dust settled, the Beckhoff Automation solutions was chosen.

Providing the processing power for the M1 is a CX2020 Embedded PC running Beckhoff's TwinCAT 3 control platform. With the Beckhoff solution, IDT was able to combine everything into a simple package, with ample room for expansion through additional I/O slices or PLC functions programmed into the software. In addition, the Windows operating system (OS) on the Embedded PC fit perfectly into the overall scheme of IDT operations.

IDT plans to continue integrating Beckhoff technologies into their designs with projects in motion to build additional M1 synthesizers. By leveraging the power of PC-based control, IDT is well positioned to continue its evolution by introducing breakthrough technologies in genetic research.

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