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Bio-programming toolkit maker Asimov launches with $4.7M from Andreessen Horowitz

Bio-programming toolkit maker Asimov launches with $4.7M from Andreessen Horowitz
From TechCrunch - December 19, 2017

Biotech is one of todays many hot frontiers of technology, but one thing holding it back is that its significantly less amenable to traditional computing techniques than other areas. A new startup called Asimov, spun off from research at MIT, is working on bridging the gap between the digital and the biological by creating, essentially, a set of computer-aided biology design tools. Its a prescient enough idea that it has attracted $4.7 million in seed funding.

The problem that Asimov addresses is this. Say youre a pharmaceutical company trying to make a tiny biocompatible machine that holds a certain amount of medication and releases it when it senses some other molecule.

In order to do so, youd have towell, among about a million other thingsdesign what amounts to a logic gate and signal processor that works at the molecular scale. This is a daunting prospect, as creating molecular machinery is a labor-intensive process often involving creating thousands of variations of a given structure and testing them repeatedly to see which works.

Asimovs innovation is to allow people to create biological circuitry like the above using familiar tools and techniques. In fact, theyd use the same tools as if they were going to build a similar circuit in silicon and copper.

The technique Asimovs founders createdMITs Alec Nielsen, Raja Srinivas, Chris Voigt and Doug Densmoretranslates the logic and structure of a traditional circuit into a DNA strand that can be introduced to an organism and replicated inside it, where it will perform the same type of calculation (XOR, for instance) inside the cell.

Built-in protections prevent errors at the molecular level, such as conformational problems resulting from this or that structure being too close to one another, and as a result, the creators claim the platform can tell you with 90 percent accuracy whether a circuit youve designed will work or not.

Some of the technical details can be found at this MIT news release from last year, or in this more recent blog post by Nielsen.

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