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Sandia seeks to license retrosynthetic analysis software to speed engineering of compounds for biofuels, chemicals, more

Biologists at Sandia National Laboratories have developed comprehensive software that will help scientists in a variety of industries create engineered chemicals more quickly and easily. Sandia is now looking to license the software for commercial use, researchers said.

Sandia’s stand-alone software RetSynth uses a novel algorithm to sort through large, curated databases of biological and chemical reactions, which could help scientists synthetically engineer compounds used in the production of biofuels, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals, dyes, scents and flavors.


Additional modules maximize theoretical yield by optimizing carbon flux, gene compatibility, and final target separation properties.

The RetSynth software was originally developed as part of the Department of Energy’s Co-Optimization of Fuels & Engines initiative, a consortium of national lab, university and industry researchers who are creating innovative fuels and combining them with high-efficiency engines to reduce emissions and boost fuel economy.

The software platform uses retrosynthetic analysis to help scientists identify possible pathways to production—the series of biological and chemical reactions, or steps, needed to engineer and modify the molecules in a cell—to create the desired biological product or compound.

By using the software to analyze all pathways rapidly, scientists can determine the production sequence with the fewest steps; the sequences that can be completed with available resources; or the most economically viable process.

Synthetic biology involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities.

Synthetic biology is becoming a critical capability for US manufacturing. It has the potential to dramatically reduce waste, eliminate or curtail emissions and create next-generation therapeutics and materials. That is where people will see RetSynth have the biggest impact.

The diverse functionality of RetSynth opens a lot of opportunities for researchers, giving them multiple options, including biological, chemical or hybrid pathways to production. All the while, the software is accelerating the research and development process associated with bioproduction. Traditionally, this process has been relatively slow and complex.

—Corey Hudson, a computational biologist at Sandia

RetSynth is designed to save researchers time and money by suggesting process modifications to maximize theoretical yield, or the amount of bioproduct that could be produced, Hudson said. All available pathways are rendered using clear visual images, enabling software users to quickly interpret results.

Today, RetSynth has been expanded to support a variety of diverse applications, and Sandia is ready to license the software to an industry partner for commercial use, Hudson said.


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