The DNA synthesis company Gen9 will be giving away one million DNA base pairs in their 2014 G-Prize competition. The competition, exclusively sponsored by Gen9, was started in 2012 as a way to support innovation in the design of synthetic DNA. Unlike in previous years, this year’s competition will be open not only to academic and nonprofit scientists, but to pre-commercial startups as well. The competition will be split into two categories: one for startups and the other for academic/public-benefit organizations, and the winner in each category will be awarded 500,000 base pairs. The Gen9 panel of judges will be looking for a project making compelling and constructive use of synthetic biology. All submissions are due by midnight on December 31st, 2014.
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Putting the Numbers into Perspective
DNA, the hereditary material inside our cells, tells the cell how to make proteins. DNA is made up of base pairs – four different kinds of molecules arranged in pairs, with different combinations coding for different proteins. These combinations are arranged in bigger groups called genes, which code for a specific characteristic.
So, what can one do with 500,000 base pairs? Well, it takes about 1,000 base pairs to code for most proteins. The smallest gene present in nature contains 21 base pairs, while the longest is more than 2 million base pairs long. Human genes are around 27,000 base pairs on average, although some can be as big as 2 million base pairs. Simple organisms, usually primitive and single-celled, tend to have smaller genomes containing about 500,000 base pairs, while the whole human genome contains 3 billion base pairs.
Researchers using synthetic DNA usually work with bits of DNA as short as 500 base pairs or as long as 10,000 base pairs, although Gen9 also takes orders for whole genes and handles orders of over 1 million base pairs. So, 500,000 base pairs is a substantial award for most researchers, one that can significantly aid them in their research.