Interview with Nikoleta Antou, Senior Scientist

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September 7, 2023

When did you join Evonetix and how has the company evolved since then? 

I joined Evonetix in 2021 as a biologist, focusing on on-surface assay development. Since then, I have moved into a project management role, overseeing a section of Binary Assembly development.  

When I first joined, the Binary Assembly® process was still in its infancy, with a small team of roughly five people working on it. Since then, we have grown to a team of over 20 scientists and engineers and changed or modified our approach in almost every single aspect. These changes have resulted in tremendous improvements in the process, which eventually led to the Binary Assembly proof of concept in late 2022. 

 What is the focus of your role at Evonetix and what do you enjoy most about your job? 

My main role in the company is best described as a project manager focusing on delivering Binary Assembly milestones. Naturally, the role involves a lot of problem solving, communicating with, and assisting technical experts in achieving their goals.  

Coming from a technical background, the thing I enjoy the most is seeing all the individual pieces of the technology come together. Being part of such a multidisciplinary team has expanded my knowledge and understanding of so many departments, to the point that I can occasionally be an assistant in the chemistry lab, another in the biology lab and another in the engineering department.

 What is the Binary Assembly process and why is it so important?

Binary Assembly is an automated method of combining DNA on a chip from smaller fragments to produce long DNA. During assembly, strands are selectively released from the surface, guided to neighboring semi-complementary strands, and annealed. Assembling long DNA from smaller fragments is not only faster, but also less error prone. 

After annealing, we remove even more errors by heating each site to a precise temperature, just below the melting point of the perfectly complimentary sequence. At this temperature DNA that is not perfectly annealed will melt and be removed from the process. We then “bind” the semi-complementary strands together and keep repeating the process. Every repeat leads to longer DNA.

How does the Binary Assembly process contribute to Evonetix’s overall goal?

While standard DNA synthesis has drastically improved over the past few years, it is still an arduous process. Short oligonucleotides, like primers, are cheap and fast to source, but there is still a great need in the market for quick turnaround of high-quality long DNA.  

This is the gap in the market that Evonetix’s desktop platform will fill. Imagine having an instrument in your lab that allows you to synthesize your own, high-quality, custom-made, long DNA with minimal manual input! This speed and freedom will revolutionize synthetic biology research. With the right tools available, synthetic biology can offer novel solutions to complicated issues related to healthcare, agriculture, and climate change.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in developing the system?

Our technology pushes the boundaries of many different disciplines; from semiconductor thermal wells to parallel DNA synthesis. Each discipline is facing and overcoming incredible challenges; but making sure all components of the platform are compatible, scalable, and hands-off is definitely one of my biggest challenges. 

What are the next steps for this technology?

Since our proof-of-concept work, we have focused on improving the performance of the Binary Assembly sub-processes. Amongst other things, we have introduced extra sites to our chip that would enable us to assemble longer and better DNA. We soon hope to perform Binary Assembly on more, harder-to-assemble sequences demonstrating the effectiveness of our process in generating high-quality DNA.