Recently, Newsweek tweeted: “Synbio was going to save the world. Now it’s being used to make vanilla flavoring.” Synthetic biology (synbio), for the uninitiated, uses organisms and designs from nature to engineer new tools.
Almost everything we use daily — from food to clothing to toys — relies on decades- to centuries-old ingredients and production processes. These manufacturing systems have enabled impressive economic growth, raising global standards of living. But as planetary resources such as water and fossil fuels get more scarce and problematic for the planet, biology is offering a new way to engineer solutions.
Microorganisms can make many of the same ingredients as the traditional industrialization process but with less energy and waste and without relying on petroleum derivatives. Just as yeast can be fermented to make beer, microbes can be used to make a variety of products with synthetic biology.
Biologists are the engineers of the future. Ultimately, climate change, infectious diseases and famine could meet their match with applied and synthetic biology. But the truth is we have to start somewhere, such as vanilla flavoring.
And in many cases, these efforts are already under way. Consider the ongoing efforts to reinvent transplantation for humans using pig organs. By editing the biological code of pigs to ensure their tissues are not rejected by people, scientists hope to engineer a new generation of organ transplants, saving the 20 people that die every day waiting for organs. Synthetic biology provides a new solution, and one that is potentially within reach in less than a decade.
The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: After the Biofuel Fail, Does Synthetic Biology Have a Future?