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The Allen Institute, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and the University of Washington (UW) yesterday launched the Seattle Hub for Synthetic Biology, a collaboration that will build new technologies to record the history of cells over time. It will be led by UW Medicine researchers Jay Shendure, MD, PhD; Marion Pepper, PhD; Cole Trapnell, PhD; and Jesse Gray, PhD. The Hub will build on technology pioneered at the Allen Discovery Center for Cell Lineage Tracing and UW Medicine’s Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine.

“Imagine being able to put a smartwatch into each of your cells to record the genome itself and everything that cell is experiencing,” says Jay Shendure, executive director of the Seattle Hub for Synthetic Biology and a professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “Currently, when biologists take measurements, we’re limited to either observing how a few things change over time with a microscope, or to measuring everything but only at the moment in time that we break open the cell. With the kind of genomic smart watch that we’re aiming to build, one could recover the full autobiography of each cell, rather than only the last page.”

New insights into health and disease, these researchers say, could provide “unprecedented clarity into how biological events unfold over time, including the causal chain of molecular and cellular events that begins with a genetic mutation and culminates in a developmental disease seen in the clinic,” according to a release. The technology will be proven as research tools to study changes in cells in the context of development and immunology, with the goal of extending the project into diverse research, diagnostic, and clinical applications. 

“We are incredibly excited to enter this new era of collaboration to tackle big moonshot projects in partnership with others,” says Rui Costa, DVM, PhD, President and CEO of the Allen Institute. “We’re bringing together experts in genomic engineering and synthetic biology to advance a new age of experimentation that will allow us to record the history of biological events in our cells, and eventually to design new, smart interventions for disease.” 

Findings from the new institute will be shared widely with the scientific community to fuel progress in labs throughout the Pacific Northwest and around the world. 

“Every cell in our body has its own unique history. By developing new technologies to measure and understand the history of our cells over time, including how they are impacted by the environment around them, genetic mutations, and other factors, we can expand scientists’ understanding of what happens at the cellular level when we go from healthy to sick and help pinpoint the earliest causes of disease,” says Priscilla Chan, co-founder and co-CEO of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

“The Seattle Hub for Synthetic Biology demonstrates the enormous potential impact of values-driven partnerships, and it represents a new way of thinking about how we can solve problems more quickly and effectively through scientific collaboration,” says UW president Ana Mari Cauce. “Our shared values, paired with our complimentary perspectives and strengths, are a recipe for success, and I can’t wait to see what this team will accomplish together.”

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