DNARNA Synthesizer Model 394

Description (Brief)
This machine is an automated DNA/RNA synthesizer, Model 394 from Applied Biosystems, Inc. It was on the market from 1991 to 2007. DNA/RNA synthesizers can produce short single strands of nucleotides known as oligonucleotides. These “oligos” can be linked together to create longer strands of DNA or RNA. Synthetic DNA or RNA is used by researchers both to study how genes work and for the purposes of genetic engineering and PCR (see object 1993.0166.01). Often it is easier to make a stretch of DNA or RNA with a synthesizer than it is to isolate that same stretch of DNA or RNA from a natural source. Synthetic oligos can also be created with slight changes from the naturally occurring forms, allowing researchers to study the impact of modifying the molecule.
The ability to synthesize oligos has been around since the late 1950s, when Har Gobind Khorana discovered a method to make them in the lab using solution phase chemistry. In the 1960s, Robert Letsinger devised a method for assembling oligos using solid phase chemistry, which constructs the oligo by linking its chemical building blocks onto a polymer bead scaffolding. This advance, along with slight adjustments to Khorana’s original protocol, simplified the reaction to the point where the first automated machines to perform oligo synthesis could be built in the late 1970s. At the time, however the reaction relied on very unstable chemicals that had to be prepared by a highly trained chemist just before the machine could be run.
By the 1980s further adjustments to the reaction made it possible for someone without a great deal of experience in chemical preparation to operate the machines, opening up their use to a wider audience and increasing their commercial viability. Applied Biosystems marketed these simpler to use machines starting in 1989. This object, Model 394, was the second wave of Applied Biosystems’s DNA/RNA synthesizers. It consumed chemicals more efficiently than the previous model and could synthesize up to four oligos at one time.
“Gene Synthesis Demystified.” Czar, Michael J., J. Christopher Anderson, Joel S. Bader, Jean, Peccoud. Trends in Biotechnology. 27 February 2009 (2):63–72.
Manual for DNA Synthesizer Models 392 and 394, Applied Biosystems, Inc.
“A Short History of Oligonucleotide Synthesis.” Hogrefe, Richard. TriLink BioTechnologies. http://www.trilinkbiotech.com/tech/oligo_history.pdf
Accession File
Currently not on view
Object Name
dna/rna synthesizer
date made
Applied Biosystems
Physical Description
steel (overall material)
glass (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
insulated wire (overall material)
overall: 50 cm x 66 cm x 46 cm; 19 11/16 in x 26 in x 18 1/8 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Biological Sciences
Science & Mathematics
Biotechnology and Genetics
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center


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