10.31.05 —It doesn’t get much better as a multidisciplinary technology transfer success story — from the research equivalent of a garage operation to a fully functioning synthetic biology commercial enterprise supporting interdisciplinary academic researchers, private industry and the local economy.
UCI Professors Richard Lathrop, Department of Computer Science, and G. Wesley Hatfield, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, have seen their joint research in the emerging field of synthetic biology blossom into UC patents, a fully functioning Computational Biology Research Laboratory (CBRL), a thriving start-up company (CODA Genomics, Irvine, CA), a cascade of new research projects crisscrossing the campus, a flood of new external funding for the university, and a growing list of industry applications.
The Calit2-affiliated researchers will be recognized for their unique entrepreneurial contributions at a Nov. 19 ceremony honoring UCI’s most significant innovators. The event is part of celebration activities surrounding UCI’s 40th anniversary.
Lathrop and Hatfield applied computational and biological methods to optimize the self-assembly of chemically synthesized genes. The technology was developed under a large NSF Information Research Technology grant to the two researchers. “This new computationally optimized DNA assembly (CODA) technology now makes it more economical to manufacture synthetic genes than to isolate them from natural sources,” said Hatfield.
“Several UCI visionaries made it all possible,” said Hatfield and Lathrop in a recent interview. “This was truly a cross-campus effort of multiple schools and administrative entities, tied together by two interdisciplinary research units.”
The Institute for Genomics and Bioinformatics (IGB) led the way with seed funding and administrative support for the researchers, and continues to administer their efforts. A team of four deans—Bryant, Biological Sciences; Cesario, Medicine; Richardson, Information and Computer Sciences; and Stern, Physical Sciences—and Vice Chancellor for Research William Parker pooled resources to contribute $200,000 to further the promising research. The School of Medicine supported the growing project with laboratory space, and the Office of Technology Alliances contributed patent and licensing support.
Recently Albert Yee, director of the Irvine division of the two-campus interdisciplinary California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2), provided a state-of-the-art laboratory home for the UCI CBRL, allowing the research to further expand the production of synthetic genes for research and industry applications.
UCI Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research & Technology Alliances David G. Schetter stated, “The CBRL’s production of synthetic genes is a prime success story epitomizing the UC mission of transferring technology to industry, and exemplifying the potential of interdisciplinary research for our local and national economy.” The payoff has come not only through licensing of UC-patented technologies, but also from the university research and community commercial activities that these technologies have fostered. New research projects made possible by novel synthetic genes have garnered significant national funding, and an NIH grant to UCI and CODA Genomics, Inc., is supporting technology transfer efforts.
Novel synthetic genes assembled for UCI researchers by the CBRL include a red fluorescent protein that allows cell biologists to track metabolic events through cellular process in living cells; a gene instrumental in the development of a DNA vaccine; and a synthetic version of a newly discovered protein that causes cancer.