Made in Eastern Iowa: Integrated DNA Technologies & WABTEC Railway Engineering

By Ashley Hinson, Anchor/Reporter

It's big business, making one of the smallest products out there: D.N.A.

Coralville based Integrated DNA Technologies caters to 88 thousand customers around the world, and they're busy manufacturing 24 hours a day 6 days a week.

The company gets orders directly from researchers at Universities, Teaching and Research Hospitals, Pharmaceutical and Biotech Companies. All of them are looking for a DNA product called an "oligo" tailored to their research. It's a highly scientific process. But basically it involves synthesizing and bonding different bases together to make a custom product.

"They order a specific sequence of bases that allow them to focus in on an area, or a gene or multiple genes of interest," says Trey Martin, Chief Operating Officer at Integrated DNA Technologies. "We're growing one at a time just like putting one string on the bead at the time.. but chemically."

Everything is made to order, so they don't have inventory other than the supplies used to make the product. The company has invested millions in on site holding tanks feeding in the chemicals they use.

And it is all brought inside to the manufacturing floor with what is almost like a keg system at a bar. "There's a pressure gas that comes in here, and there's a tube that goes down," and brings in the chemicals needed to bond the layers together. They use very tiny crushed beads of glass, from 80 to 120 microns each.

"But the surface of them looks like the surface of a brain," says Martin. That surface area gives a place for the sequences to start to bond and build on top of each other. The company quality checks each sample. Even though they are small they each have a specific molecular weight. That's how they know the customer is getting the right thing. And they've invested in growing the company, creating 130 positions in the last two years.

"We're making 30 to 35 thousand different sequences a day." A growing company, growing DNA for research around the world.

Another growing company? Cedar Rapids WABTEC is all about making sure trains "shunting trucks and hauling freight" are safe. The engineers design and test computer software that keeps train conductors on their toes.

"What we're going to see is a warning telling the engineer that he's going a little over the speed restriction limit here," says Juan Joy, one of the engineers testing the software.

With millions of miles of track out there, train operators may not be aware of temporary speed zones, construction, even that there could be another train coming. Safety could be compromised, but that's where the on-board software comes in.

"If he doesn't take corrective action, and speeds up a little more, then we're going to go into enforcement and stop the train for him," says Joy.

Though this is all a simulation, out on the rails these computers are connected with satellites and GPS in real time. "We do all the software development for that here."

Because of the Federal Rail Safety Improvement Act OF 2008, every mile of track has to be surveyed and mapped out to go into the software. And it's keeping WABTEC busy. Over the past year, the company estimates growth at 25%.

Two businesses, keeping research and railroads going.

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