Touchlight featured: Synthetic biology seizes new ground in healthcare

GenEngNews. November 2019 Vol. 39 no. 11

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Synthetic biology is among the most exciting emerging technologies. By taking an engineering approach to living systems, synbio—as synthetic biology is often called—aims to design and build new biological products and organisms to overcome some of humanity’s biggest challenges.

Synbio enthusiasts claim that the technology could transform industries as diverse as petrochemicals and pharmaceuticals—helping people remain healthy, improving food production, and even generating renewable energy. Some of these enthusiasts enjoy considerable influence. In the United Kingdom, for example, they contribute to the work of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and the Department of Business, Industry, and Skills (BIS). In 2011, BIS issued a report indicating that TSB had identified synbio as “a key emerging technology with the potential to create a billion-pound industry within the United Kingdom in the next decade.”

Last June, SynbiCITE, the United Kingdom’s national center for the commercialization of synthetic biology, held a conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London. SynbiTECH 2019 aimed to highlight the “key opportunities and challenges for building a multibillion-dollar synthetic biology industry.” Speaking in a session on synbio in healthcare, UK startups presented new microbe-based drugs as well as artificial proteins for delivering medications to cells.

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