Synthetic biology is a new interdisciplinary field involving the implementation of the principles of engineering in biology. The aim is to redesign and manufacture biological components and systems that do not exist in the natural world already. Synthetic biologists engaged in extreme genetic engineering to build designer organisms that carry out specific tasks, such as the production of biofuels or other high-value compounds.
Synthetic biology is in its early stages and has entered the commercial market recently. Many technologies, using synthetic biology are still to be marketed and await approvals from the respective regional government authorities. Synthetic biology analyzes how artificial biological systems can be constructed using many similar tools and experimental techniques. The focus is often on the characterization and simplification of parts of natural biological systems and its use as modules of an engineered biological system.
Europe has invested in the development of a synthesis of systems based on biological principles. Europe is occupying the world’s largest share in the Synthetic Biology market and will retain its position throughout till 2025. Asia-Pacific, however, is the fastest growing market with a CAGR of 40% between 2014 and 2020. In North America, the defense has been an important contributor to the investments made in recent years.
The global synthetic biology market size is estimated is reach $5–$6 billion in 2018 and witness a CAGR of 32%–33% during the forecast period 2019–2026.
Synthetic biology offers high productivity in the re-engineering and design of artificial bimolecular components and biomaterials, mainly used in various biological, industrial, and environmental applications, such as gene technology, drug discovery & therapeutics, novel protein synthesis, artificial tissue regeneration, biofuels, industrial enzymes, bioremediation, and green chemicals.
Applications of Synthetic Biology
Scientists can design and synthesize modified bacterial chromosomes that can be used in the manufacture of advanced biofuels, bio-products, renewable chemicals, and bio-based specialty chemicals such as pharmaceutical intermediates, fine chemicals, and food ingredients in the healthcare sector. The market for synthetic biology is a technology that is now in massive demand in the biotechnology, chemical, and biofuel industries, and its products will soon outstrip other industries’ products.
New medicines are now being produced using synthetic biology at a cellular, molecular, and genetic level to address emerging health problems.
What Synthetic Biology Does?
Synthetic biology combines the chemical synthesis of DNA with the knowledge of genomics to enable scientists to quickly manufacture and assemble cataloged DNA sequences into new genomes.
Synthetic biology is expected to be adopted in a wide range of fields, including chemicals, pharmaceuticals, energy, and agriculture, as a major market for applications.
Synthetic Biology Goals
- Developing standardized biological parts
- Applied protein design: Redesigning the prevailing biological parts and increasing the set of protein functions for new processes
- Natural product synthesis: Engineering microbes to generate all the required enzymes and biological functions for the complex production of natural products in multiple stages
- Synthetic genomics: Designing a simple genome for bacteria
Impact of Synthetic Biology on Biodiversity
Synthetic biology reproduces synthetic microbes. If synthetic organisms escape into the environment, biological diversity is threatened. Specifically, these organisms are designed to survive, function, and spread in the natural environment. If they found an ecological niche, wild populations could be displaced, and whole ecosystems could be disrupted. Synthetic organisms could also unintentionally escape through faulty containment systems or by human error from laboratories, bio-refineries, and production vats. Many of these microbes are designed to break down biomass or produce fuel lipids. Their escape may be disastrous. Escape of organisms designed to break down cellulose or directly produce oils may lead to the destruction of all plant materials or they can introduce toxic compounds into the environment.
Synthetic Biology Market Drivers
- Support from government and private organizations
- An increasing number of research organizations
- Reduction in the cost of sequencing and synthesizing DNA
- Increasing R&D funding and initiatives, increased demand for protein therapy, synthetic genes and synthetic cells, renewal fuels, bio-based chemicals, expensive drugs, and synthetic biology vaccines
- Large scale applications and their potential to generate new gene editing techniques. Many industries have begun to take an interest in synthetic biology in recent years
- Replacement of traditional medicines by DNA synthesis technologies, DNA sequencing, and genetically engineered products. Advanced synthetic biology and design systems have completely changed the traditional approach to combat genetic challenges and new diseases
Market Restraining Factors
- Issues like biosafety, biosecurity, and ethical issues
- Hindrance by government regulations
The challenges in assessing the risks of Synthetic Biology are predictable and include the integration of modified cells into living organisms; the future development of autonomous modified cells; the use of non-standard biochemical systems in the living cells; the speed of changes in new technologies and the evolving biology of “do-it-yourself” among the scientific community of citizens.
Drug: Artemisinin is the key component of the best malaria drugs today, as a result of synthetic biology. Artemisinin, made from yeast, captured hearts and minds by showing synthetic biology could make a life-saving malaria drug cheap.
Biofuel: The Amyris scientists have developed a synthetic pathway that converts FPP into hydrocarbon farnesene. It is so far the only biofuel that is adequately energy-dense for aviation fuel use. Besides replacing fossil fuels, farnesene also has the environmental advantage of not belching particulates and sulfur. It smells like green apples when burned.
Cosmetics: Farnesene produced by yeast is used to make personal care products such as vitamin E, patchouli oil and squalene, a chemical compound once harvested from the shark’s liver, which is prized for its moisturizing properties and other therapeutic benefits.
Plastics: Synthetic biology also provides plastics such as nylon with a greener option. Currently, crude oil nylon production accounts for 10% of human-made nitrous oxide emissions, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
Leading institutions in synthetic biology research are:
- Imperial College London (the EPSRC, U.K.’s National Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation)
- University of Cambridge
- Newcastle University
- University of Edinburgh