Twist Bioscience Expands to New South San Francisco Location
South San Francisco—known as both “The Industrial City” and“The Birthplace of Biotechnology,”—welcomes a new resident that is already contributing to the city’s history of technological innovation and cutting-edge manufacturing. “We now serve over 50 customers, and in December alone, shipped 10,000 genes. With our rapid growth, we are expanding into this state-of-the-art facility to address our customers’ current and future needs,” commented Emily Leproust, CEO of Twist Bioscience.
Twist Bioscience’s expansion into its new 12,000-square-foot South San Francisco property more than doubles its current production space, with real-time video links between the two production sites for continuous communication and coordination. This move has been in the works since June 2016, and was recently completed without any unscheduled downtime thanks to the hard work and efficiency of the many Twist Bioscience employees and contractors involved. The machines in the previous facility were shut down, transported, installed, restarted, recalibrated, and requalified in only 10 days, a significant feat considering the requirements for over 15 complex systems.
According to Roger Rudoff, director of hardware at Twist Bioscience and one of the main orchestrators of the move, “Hardware, Automation, and Operations all worked together with careful planning to accomplish this move on time and on schedule. We were able to meet our goals of minimal production interruptions and maintaining product shipment to customers, while greatly enhancing our gene production capabilities. With the expansion, we created an assembly line-like automated workflow for gene production, consisting of multiple clean rooms including specialized media preparation, quality control analysis, and custom vector labs, in addition to improved shipping, receiving, and warehousing capabilities to support our rapid growth.”
This major addition to Twist Bioscience’s total production space, along with the ongoing 24/7 production schedule (yes, we make DNA on Christmas day!), will enable the company to further expand its customer base, fill bigger orders, and take on ambitious new projects and product lines. A prediction underscored by Patrick Weiss, VP of Operations: “The installation of new and custom equipment, investment in infrastructure, and expansion of capabilities sets us up to accept larger volumes and more customers, and to accelerate research across multiple industries.” In fact, the 50+ people operating the new facility—a dedicated bunch of engineers, scientists, software engineers, and robotics operators—have already demonstrated what they can accomplish with the additional resources and production space: On January 10, Twist Bioscience announced that it is now shipping genes 3,200 base pairs long to Ginkgo Bioworks. That’s 1,400 base pairs longer than the gene length the company previously shipped.
Synthesizing longer genes at a massive scale is no small feat. Unlike scaling up production capabilities in other manufacturing industries, which often can be accomplished by adding more workers, automating repetitive production stages, or opening the intake of raw material, the process of synthesizing high quality genes thousands of base pairs long poses unique challenges that require specialized custom-designed equipment and expert oversight. Synthetic genes are assembled from oligonucleotides, which are short strands of DNA that must be ordered precisely. With each added oligonucleotide, the risk increases that the in-process synthetic DNA strand will tangle and fold, scrambling the order of further base pair additions and leading to a defective product.
The South San Francisco production facility is the launch pad for Twist Bioscience’s next phase of growth and development, providing expanded capacity for current and future customer needs as well as expanded and differentiated product lines. Moreover, the growing customer demand demonstrates that the company’s technology is scalable, breaking through the conventional constraints of the synthetic biology industry to meet the growing market for synthetic DNA. After successfully expanding to South San Francisco, the company is on a trajectory to continue shipping industry-leading volumes of DNA quickly and affordably. With the newly achieved and constantly increasing benchmarks in gene length and production scale, an extraordinary range of synthetic biology projects is now within sight. Patrick Finn, VP of sales and marketing, captures the excitement of this vision: “Our technology platform is truly enabling researchers to accelerate their science and expand their perspective. We will see rapid growth in existing applications such as gene synthesis and genome editing in addition to the emergence of many creative applications from the availability of high-throughput, high-quality synthetic DNA.”