Potential Applications of Synthetic Biology
Synthetic biology has a wide range of potential applications across a variety of industries and could provide solutions to many of the major global challenges, such as food security, energy shortage, diseases, etc.
Deficiencies in specific nutrients, such as vitamin D, which cause death in developing countries, could be prevented by engineering food crops to synthesize these nutrients efficiently.
Synthetic Biology offers a way to produce drugs against diseases such as cancer and infections more cheaply than by conventional methods.
New detection methods offered by this technology will also provide opportunities to discover new drugs and high-value compounds.
Being able to engineer synthetic circular circuits in biological systems means that genes in that circuit can be switched on and off when needed, which could for instance lead to applications such as the tailored-delivery of compounds such as drugs, in a timely manner, when required to treat diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, etc.
Re-engineering of micro organisms, for example to produce novel products or biosensor-signalling pathways.
Synthetic biology has been chosen as a specific area of investment by the Technology Strategy Board (now known as Innovate UK) Emerging Technologies and Industries (ETI) Programme, which aims to turn the emerging technologies of today into the growth sectors of tomorrow for UK business.
Several market sectors where synthetic biology could have an impact have been identified, including:
Sensors and diagnostics
Medicine and healthcare
The impact of Synthetic Biology is not limited to these four sectors, and other areas such as the Agri-Food sector could also benefit from this technology.
A semi-synthetic version of the antimalarial drug artemisinin, initially developed in Jay Keasling's laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB) using genetically engineered bacteria, has the potential to a low cost and reliable source of this life saving drug.
The pharmaceutical company Sanofi launched large-scale production of partially synthetic artemisinin in April 2013.