July 16, 2024
Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology: Engineering Life to Advance Science and Help Humanity

Origins and Progress of SynBio

SynBio is an emerging field that applies engineering principles to biology. It involves designing and constructing new biological parts, devices and systems or re-designing existing natural biological systems. The field largely originated in the early 2000s through work done by scientists such as Craig Venter and projects like forming the first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell. Since then, progress has been rapid in developing standardized biological components that can be assembled like modules in an engineering design. Many universities and research labs are heavily focused on advancing this new discipline.

Early successes included Synthetic Biology poliovirus DNA entirely from its published genetic sequence and transplanting that DNA into a host bacterial cell to produce infectious poliovirus particles solely through in vitro biochemical processes. Researchers have also synthesized the bacterial genome of Mycoplasma mycoides and transplanted that genome into a related bacterial cell to generate a new Mycoplasma mycoides cell controlled only by the synthetic chromosome. These proof-of-principle experiments demonstrated that complex living organisms can be recreated from scratch using rationally designed DNA assembled piece by piece outside of living cells.

Advancing Human Healthcare through SynBio

One area that has great promise for SynBio is advancing human healthcare and developing new medical treatments. Researchers are engineering bacteria to detect and diagnose diseases more quickly and accurately. For example, researchers have created E. coli biosensors that change color in the presence of cancer biomarker proteins, allowing for fast, sensitive detection of certain cancers from blood or urine samples. SynBio approaches are also being investigated for developing novel antibiotics to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria and more effective vaccines.

Additionally, synthetic biologists are working on re-engineering cells to produce therapeutics like insulin at lower costs. Currently most insulin is produced in genetically engineered yeast or E. coli cells. However, Synthetic Biology may allow production in other cellular “chassis” like algae or plant cells, reducing manufacturing expenses. Synthetic constructs are also being explored for targeted drug delivery – for example, programming bacteria to selectively deliver cancer drugs or carry imaging agents specifically to tumor sites in the body. Overall, SynBio holds promise to revolutionize disease diagnosis, treatment and drug development.

SynBio Applications in Energy and the Environment

Another major focus area is using Synthetic Biology for sustainable and renewable energy production and environmental solutions. Researchers are engineering microbes to efficiently convert biomass feedstocks like corn stover or switchgrass into biofuels like butanol or fatty acid methyl esters (biodiesel) that can replace gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The goal is to develop biofuel production organisms with optimized pathways that generate higher fuel yields at lower costs compared to current first-generation biofuels.

SynBio is also being applied to develop algae and cyanobacteria that can harvest energy from the sun through photosynthesis and use that energy to convert carbon dioxide into liquid transportation fuels like isobutanol directly. Some proposed designs even program the microbes to store the fuels internally for easy extraction. If successful at commercial scales, such an approach could become a carbon-neutral replacement for fossil fuels. Beyond energy, synthetic constructs are studied for applications like bioremediating toxic pollutants from soil and water, producing compostable plastics from plant material, or enhancing photosynthesis in crops to increase food production on existing farmland without expanding agriculture into undeveloped ecosystems.

Ethical and Biosafety Considerations

While SynBio promises many benefits, its rapid advancement also brings ethical questions and biosafety concerns that must be carefully considered and addressed. Some major issues involve biosecurity and biocontainment – engineered organisms could potentially escape laboratory containment or be intentionally misused as bioweapons. There are also debates around bio-patenting synthetic lifeforms and impacts on indigenous communities. Environmental biosafety requires assessing impacts of open-air testing and commercial deployment of synthetic organisms. From an ethical standpoint, the boundary between technology and “playing God” through extensive re-engineering of life is unclear.

Overall, most scientists advocate developing strict oversight and governance frameworks to safely guide this new technology. Progress will depend on open public engagement to identify issues and build consensus on best practices. Standardized biosafety levels and containment facilities can minimize risks from accidental laboratory escapes. Biocontainment techniques like genomic “safeguards” that disable synthetic organisms outside controlled conditions provide additional safety layers. With adequate oversight and precautions to ensure responsible development, Synthetic Biology has immense promise to solve global challenges through innovative applications of biological engineering.

*Note:
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public Source, Desk Research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it.

About Author - Ravina Pandya

Ravina Pandya,a content writer, has a strong foothold in the market research industry. She specializes in writing well-researched articles from different industries, including food and beverages, information and technology, healthcare, chemicals and materials, etc. With an MBA in E-commerce, she has expertise in SEO-optimized content that resonates with industry professionals.  LinkedIn Profile

About Author - Ravina Pandya

Ravina Pandya, a content writer, has a strong foothold in the market research industry. She specializes in writing well-researched articles from different industries, including food and beverages, information and technology, healthcare, chemicals and materials, etc. With an MBA in E-commerce, she has expertise in SEO-optimized content that resonates with industry professionals.  LinkedIn Profile

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