Thursday 15 October 2020

Synthetic Biology and Bioengineering Reshaping the Way We Think About Life

Think about a future where synthetic fish roam in rivers and other waterways, searching for germs to kill; where environment-friendly fuels and plastics are produced from yeast vats; where electronic systems repair themselves just like living beings do; and where viruses and other microbes are programmed to kill cancer cells.

This is the kind of world synthetic biology aims to build, where possibilities are far greater than imagination. For synthetic biology researchers, life is a machine and it can be designed and manufactured (yes, you read that correctly!) to solve various health, environmental, and energy problems existing in this big beautiful planet, we call the Earth. In simpler term, synthetic biology is either the building of genetic circuits, cells, enzymes, and several other biological entities, or the redesign of already existing living organisms.

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, “Synthetic biology is a field of science that involves redesigning organisms for useful purposes by engineering them to have new abilities”. In the healthcare industry, synthetic biology promises to find cures for a plethora of diseases and health problems and make treatments highly effective. Moreover, rapid advancements in this domain in recent times have made it possible for many scientists and medical researchers to apply synthetic biology-based methods for designing diagnostics, developing molecularly engineered tissues, and building new vaccines and drugs.

Apart from designing new cures and treatments, synthetic biology can also help the clean environment and create a greener and cleaner Earth. In addition to this, it can enhance the efficiency in chemical technology and biomanufacturing and help build enzymes that can bolster the production of biofuels. Due to these benefits, popularity of synthetic biology is rising at an explosive pace, across the world, which is, in turn, causing the boom of the global synthetic biology market.

Soaring Investments Pushing Up Research and Development (R&D) Activities

Due to excellent clinical and environmental applications of synthetic biology, many public and private organizations are making huge investments in R&D activities in this domain. Some of the prominent organizations that are funding synthetic biology research are National Science Foundation (NSF), Centre for Chemical and Synthetic Biology (CCSB), International Association Synthetic Biology (IASB), Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Besides making huge investments in R&D projects, these organizations are also implementing initiatives for promoting basic and applied research.

Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics, the Major Application Areas

Out of several areas and niches benefitting from synthetic biology, medicine is the largest one, especially with the large-scale usage of various strategies and tools developed in this domain. With the production of desired proteins that can target foreign or diseased cells and the development of engineered cells that can integrate multiple inputs and discriminate between cell types or states, synthetic biology is revolutionizing the way diseases are managed and treated. 

The biological systems developed by synthetic biologists are used in several aspects of healthcare and medicine, ranging from developing advanced cell-based therapeutic procedures that can provide personalized treatment and biologics, which can replace chemically-synthesized medicines to drug discovery. In future years, several more synthetic biology-based therapies and solutions are predicted to move from laboratory testing or concepts to clinical trials and approval.

Major Industries Being Transformed by Synthetic Biology

1. Biopharma: The adoption of synthetic biology is allowing companies operating in this industry to develop pathways that make possible for microbes to produce drugs, such as Taxol, which is an anti-cancer medicine, and Artemenisin, which is an antimalarial drug. Apart from this, synthetic biology can also improve the in-vitro drug production process. For example, Codexis utilizes synthetic biology for developing highly efficient enzymes for the synthesis of small molecule medicines.

2. Carbon Recycling: Synthetic biology has the ability to clean up the environment by reducing the emission levels and carbon footprint. This is mainly done by developing eco-friendly methods that can be used by companies using petroleum-based products. Furthermore, several companies are producing bioplastics or biofuels. For example, Synthetic Genomics is using algae for producing biofuels that can recycle the excess amounts of CO2 present in the atmosphere.

3. Fashion: The fashion industry is one of the biggest producers of carbon emissions. As a result, many fashion brands and companies are increasingly focusing on greener alternatives to the conventionally used chemically treated fabrics and dyes. Colorifix, a synthetic biology dye producing company, was developing methods via which blue jeans can be dyed without generating hazardous waste.

4. Cosmetics: The increasing concerns being raised over the usage of various animal products, such as collagen, in cosmetic items, including anti-wrinkle creams, are boosting the requirement for vegan-friendly and environment-friendly alternatives. As a result, many cosmetics companies are using synthetic biology for developing alternatives to products using animal collagen. For example, Biossance has recently developed squalene, which is an animal-free cosmetic, with the help of synthetic biology.

North America: Home of Synthetic Biology!

Globally, the adoption of synthetic biology solutions was the highest in North America during the past few years and this trend is likely to continue in the future as well. The main factors fueling the expansion of the market in this region are the rising incidence of chronic diseases and surging geriatric population. Apart from these factors, rapid technological advancements and soaring investments being made in synthetic biology research are also boosting the industry growth. In the region, usage of synthetic biology has been historically very high in the U.S.

Hence, it can be safely said that due to the rising R&D activities and growing requirement for advanced medicinal drugs and treatment procedures, on account of the rising incidence of chronic diseases and surging population of elderly people, across the world, the synthetic biology domain will flourish in coming years.

Source: P&S Intelligence

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