Scientists at iXpressGenes, on the campus of HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, have engineered a new reagent, critical to pathogen detection testing. It’s a DNA polymerase, derived from a deep-sea organism (hyperthermophillic marine archaeon), well-suited to couple with RT-PCR reactions. The enzyme, named Fast Track™ has a longer half-life, higher fidelity, and greater extension and binding efficiency than the commonly used Taq DNA polymerase and others. Fast Track makes the amplification activity of pathogenic DNA more stable and specific.
A DNA polymerase is important to molecular diagnostics because the process depends on a rapid amplification of genetic material, and the polymerase catalyzes that step, starting the process.
DNA polymerase is one of the reagents that has been difficult to source during the COVID-19 pandemic and has limited the number of tests performed. Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force working group contacted Dr. Joseph Ng, President of iXpressGenes to discuss the urgency of reagent availability. iXpressGenes optimized its recipe and manufacturing process to help diagnostic companies meet the demand.
“The critical component comes from a hydrothermal vent (a sea floor fissure) at the bottom of the ocean floor that Dr. Owen Garriott harvested from a deep sea trip we took several years ago. We were looking for a microorganism that could help solve industrial challenges,” said Dr. Ng, a close friend and colleague of the late Dr. Garriott. “This particular enzyme has evolved over millions of years to replicate DNA at very high temperatures. We have further modified it and we’ve ramped up production to help support the COVID-19 crisis.”