In the era of augmented and virtual reality, it seems like these tools and other computational methods should improve bioprocessing. They do. But getting from virtual to physical still creates a challenge in this field.
“Until the utopian day when we have a perfect understanding of biology that allows us to perfectly map virtual information to physical function, scientists have to build many iteratively improved versions of a gene, protein or cell line,” said Claes Gustafsson, chief commercial officer and co-founder at ATUM. Although scientists can almost instantly redesign a molecule or process in silico, “converting that single design into a physical manifestation in biology can take weeks or months,” he noted.
The back and forth between virtual and physical eats up time, which reduces the efficiency of bioprocessing. “Assuming no less than two to three rounds of iteration to reach a functional goal, the time to get there quickly adds up,” Gustafsson explains. “This constraint is a core bottleneck across all of biology.”
Gustafsson described two ways ATUM is addressing this bottleneck. The first objective is “minimizing the production times of each manufacturing step and integrating the process as much as possible.” Second, he said, “Design new biological material as smartly as possible so that fewer biological variants capture more information.”
As scientists move forward with Gustafsson’s ideas—finding more efficient ways to move a virtual representation of something biological to the real thing—bioprocessing in general will benefit. Imagine walking around inside a potential biotherapeutic, moving an amino acid here or there and watching that change the binding with an intended target. If everything looks right, it would be great to just hit a button to start making that molecule on a bioprocessing line. When bioprocessors can make such virtual-to-actual molecules, it will feel like a utopian day and more.