By guest authors Dr Bryony Core and Dr Nadia Tsao, Technology Analysts at IDTechEx
Synthetic biology and bio-manufacturing new products
Synthetic biology can broadly be described as the engineering of biological systems, having been the focus of intense academic research from the early 2000s. Following these early steps, genetic engineering has become increasingly sophisticated, allowing microorganisms to be engineered to produce specific target compounds, known as bio-manufacturing. Previously, some of these types of compounds were only accessible through traditional manufacturing processes and a reliance on chemical synthesis or agriculture. However, bio-manufacturing has the capability to produce meat without animals, eggs without chickens, fragrances without plants and leather without cows, greatly impacting a wide range of industries. The potential of synthetic biology for bio-manufacturing is significant; as a result, the investment into synthetic biology has soared over recent years to a record-breaking USD 1.7 billion in 2017. The technology and market trends that are driving this growth are discussed in the latest report from IDTechEx: Synthetic Biology 2018: Trends, opportunities, and outlook in engineering new materials.
Bio-manufacturing specialty chemicals and materials is a key growth area
For decades the only route to accessing key specialty chemicals has been through chemical processing, isolating target chemicals from a petrochemical feedstock in a process that typically relies on an energy intensive synthetic route while concurrently producing vast quantities of waste, which may just be discarded. The potential of bio-manufacturing to produce specialty chemicals from a renewable biomass feedstock in a specific, targeted manner using engineered biological systems is huge, with implications across a range of industries. Bio-manufacturing has already been commercialised and a small number of products are already available which demonstrate the viability of this new synthetic route, for instance consumer products manufacturer Ecover uses synthetic biology to create household detergents. In addition, the bio-manufacturing of novel materials that have exceptional properties, but have not seen mass production to date, is now accessible. The race to develop synthetic spider silk without spiders, but grown instead from microorganisms such as bacteria, is heating up, as the properties of this highly unique material make it well suited to textile applications requiring strength, low weight and biodegradability. In addition to these new products, the report Synthetic Biology 2018: Trends, opportunities, and outlook in engineering new materials losely inspects the range of leading edge materials and chemicals that are being commercialised thanks to synthetic biology.
New bio-based polymers with novel properties
As with specialty chemicals, harnessing genetically engineered organisms to produce bio-based polymers is another key growth area accessible thanks to advances in synthetic biology. New monomers may be produced by engineered microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria from a renewable feedstock, which is a particularly appealing method to increasing the green credentials of a product and reduce associated CO2 emissions. The foremost polymer that is bio-manufactured is PLA, and demand has been growing steadily since the early 2010s. However, bio-based monomers are not the only route into the bio-manufacturing of polymers: PHAs are a class of entirely bio-manufactured bio-based polymers, which are produced internally within engineered microorganisms. Despite this, market growth for bio-based polymers have faced considerable headwinds including high costs of production and competition from the low price of oil. These key market growth drivers and restraints are discussed in depth in the report.
Synthetic Biology 2018: Trends, opportunities, and outlook in engineering new materials
In 2018, the range of applications of synthetic biology is tremendously diverse. Synthetic Biology 2018: Trends, opportunities, and outlook in engineering new materials takes an in-depth look into the most commonly encountered key applications, providing detailed case studies of leading edge companies developing the technology. An overview of the latest tools utilised in the field of synthetic biology is provided, with focus on CRISPR, protein and organism engineering and commercial scale fermentation. Furthermore, areas of application that are investigated in the report include engineering biology for specialty chemicals, bio-based polymers, human therapeutics, food and beverage products and other agricultural products. In addition, this report cuts through the marketing hype to offer a detailed insight into some of the foremost synthetic biology companies leading global investment and bringing highly innovative products to market.