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Revolutionizing Synthetic Biology Research Through Automation

SPRING 2020

Automation is at the center of the Illinois Biological Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing, or iBioFAB 2.0, located inside the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Operating since 2014, the one-of-a-kind living foundry accelerates the design, build, test, and learn (DBTL) cycle while taking synthetic biology research to the next level.

An articulated, robotic arm travels a five-meter-long track carrying a microplate to a Cytomat incubator where the plate will be loaded and stored inside refrigerated walls. It is just one of over 20 instruments to which the robotic arm makes deliveries, including the Microplate Delidder, seen foreground left, and the Spinnaker Microplate Robot, seen in the background, of iBioFAB’s robotic platform.

“This equipment has increased the speed and reduced errors in large-scale workflows,” Stephan Lane said, who is the Biofoundry Manager. While currently used for projects in bioenergy, renewable chemical production, and food/agriculture industries, the platform extends to the entire biotechnology industry.

“We could potentially have applications in medicine, cancer, environmental cleanup, and nearly all technologies born in biology labs,” Lane said.

Huimin Zhao, the Steven L. Miller Chair in Chemical Engineering, who leads the iBioFAB team, hopes the integrated system will one day be readily accessible to a wide range of researchers and become a first step to automating the whole biomanufacturing process.