Scientists Harness Synthetic Biology to Address Global Demands for Food, Fuel, and Medicine
The field of synthetic biology, or synbio, is revolutionizing the way we approach global challenges related to food, fuel, medicine, and more. With a growing population, scientists are actively seeking sustainable solutions to meet the increasing demands of our world. Synthetic biology, an emerging discipline that aims to recreate fully functional biological systems found in nature, holds immense potential to address these challenges. In the latest episode of the I am BIO Podcast, experts delve into the multidisciplinary technology of synthetic biology and how it can help us achieve our sustainable goals.
Synthetic biology encompasses various techniques and approaches that involve creating biological systems using DNA, proteins, and other organic molecules as the building blocks. This research field has diverse applications, including the development of advanced biofuels, renewable chemicals, bio-based specialty chemicals, and innovations in the healthcare sector.
The impact of synbio extends beyond innovation—it also plays a significant role in the economy. Currently, it contributes about 5% to the U.S. GDP, amounting to a staggering $900 billion.
One prominent company tapping into the potential of synthetic biology is Benson Hill, a plant technology company. By utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Benson Hill aims to create nutrient-dense crops by exploring the natural genetic diversity of plants. Using modern DNA synthesis technologies, the company is specifically focused on developing a new generation of protein crops, such as soybeans and yellow peas. Traditionally, these crops have been cultivated for high yields, but Benson Hill aims to unlock their potential by creating varieties that are not only high in yield but also high in protein and low in anti-nutrients. The company believes that improving the quality of crops can have a substantial impact on the agriculture system as a whole.
Another company making strides in synthetic biology is LanzaTech. Their innovative approach involves capturing carbon and converting it into sustainable aviation fuel, as well as for use in apparel manufacturing, cleaning supplies, and fragrances. Chief Innovation Officer Michael Koepke emphasizes the ability of synthetic biology to accelerate the process of going from idea to product, making it faster, cheaper, and more precise. Through their carbon recycling technology, LanzaTech has already mitigated over 300,000 tons of CO2. Koepke predicts that they can further mitigate about 500,000 tons of CO2 while simultaneously manufacturing 300,000 tons of product. The potential for synthetic biology to achieve what other human-made technologies cannot is truly remarkable.
Ginkgo Bioworks, a biotech company, has created a platform that enables synthetic biology at scale. By leveraging AI, Ginkgo Bioworks tackles real-world problems such as the scarcity of fertilizer. Some plants have the ability to fix and absorb nitrogen naturally, while others do not. Through a collaboration with Bayer, Ginkgo Bioworks has developed a solution that teaches microbes how to live on the surface of plants and perform nitrogen fixation—an ability already present in certain plants. In addition to addressing the fertilizer shortage, Ginkgo Bioworks focuses on bio-based alternatives for various products, including biofuels and active pharmaceutical ingredients. Their work exemplifies the potential of synthetic biology to revolutionize different aspects of our lives.
Rachel King, CEO of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), emphasizes that the synbio revolution could impact nearly every facet of our lives. By combining multiple scientific disciplines, companies are successfully tackling some of our toughest challenges. The advancements in synthetic biology offer hope for a sustainable future by addressing the global demands for food, fuel, medicine, and beyond. As scientists continue to harness the power of synthetic biology, we can look forward to innovative solutions that will shape our world for the better.
– I am BIO Podcast: [Link]
– Benson Hill: [Link]
– LanzaTech: [Link]
– Ginkgo Bioworks: [Link]
– Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO): [Link]