launching digital biology

Recent advances in Synthetic biology open up new possibilities in healthcare, agriculture, chemicals, materials, energy, and bioremediation. To date this is still a very labor intensive task that requires skilled technicians and scientists. However, manual work is time consuming and wages drive development costs, thereby restricting possibilities for rapid prototyping in synthetic biology.

Digital Biology is the computer aided programming of bioprotocols using digital microfluidic biochip devices based on electrowetting on dielectric technology.

Digital biology - programming life

Advanced laboratory hardware will make access to biotechnogical procedures much more affordable with easy to replicate 'Do It Yourself' equipment, further also increase automation, replace time consuming labour and increase replicability and standardisation of methods. Thus, Digital Biology allows for wide scale automation of laboratory procedures in synthetic biology by improving efficiency between 1000 to 100000 fold compared to manual laboratory work, for the first time enabling wide scale rapid prototyping for the iterative creation of biological systems. This will allow even small biological laboratories in academia and industry as well as researchers in the developing world to develop synthetic biology products.

There are microbes all around us and everywhere on the planet. They are constantly interacting and competing, surviving and evolving. Some microbes produce compounds that are toxic to other microorganisms, and these compounds can be used as antibiotics in medicine. The microbes and antibiotics are different all over the world and also depending on what the microbes are growing on. In the 1940ies of the last century, biologists have learned to make use of antibiotics for medical purposes. Since then they have saved millions of lives and considerably contributed to the prolongation of human lifespan all over the world.

However, many microbes have evolved new mechanisms to withstand these once powerful medicines. An overuse of the available antibiotics and subsequent evolutionary pressure led to the development of multi-resistant bacteria. By now, the situation is becoming urgent, as very few effective drugs are left to treat infections.

Antibiotic resistance development is a natural process. Bacteria are under selective pressure and evolve mechanisms to avoid the antimicrobial effects of the antibiotics. Once developed, the genes for the resistance then rapidly spread even cross over between different species - a process called horizontal gene transfer. It therefore is necessary to continuously develop new antibiotics to keep up pace with resistant bacteria. 

However, meanwhile the antibiotic development pipelines of pharma companies have dried out. In 1990 there were 18 companies developing new antibiotics, by 2011 there were only 4 and market approved antimicrobials have dropped from 16 in 1985 to 0 since 2010. WHO warns that the current antimicrobial crisis could bring the end of modern medicine as we know it.

We believe that using Digital Biology in combination with automated programmable biochips we can unlock the necessary research capacity to overtake nature and the development of antibiotic resistance. 

In a global program called Biostrike, citizen and researchers can contribute to the solution of the antibiotics problem. 
Decentralizing and crowd sourcing the development of new antibiotics around the world could on one hand reduce the costs of research as more people would contribute voluntarily and on the other hand increase the chances to come up with functional new compounds. By lowering the costs per experiment dramatically, solving the antibiotic crisis should become profitable again. Only by developing a global perspective on the problem we will be solve the global antibiotics problem.

Biostrike - solving the antibiotic crisis