Image of helix and lab worker with plants for article on synthetic biology and agriculture.
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Published On: August 1st, 2023Categories: Articles, Synthetic Biology

The field of synthetic biology (syn-bio for short) is growing at an amazing rate, partly because of all the many ways syn-bio can be useful. If you think about the blanket term “biology,” think of all the applications and many different fields that fall under that umbrella. Synthetic biology can look very similar in that it can play a role in myriad applications. One industry that syn-bio has become a significant player in is synthetic biology and sustainable agriculture, and using more sustainable practices with the help of syn-bio can positively impact the planet.Read on to learn more about syn-bio and agriculture, synthetic biology and biomanufacturing and biofuels, and ethical concerns regarding syn-bio and food production.

Synthetic Biology and Sustainable Agriculture: How Is Syn-bio Used?

Think of syn-bio and agriculture as a redesigning of organisms (this is where there can be ethical questions). However, that’s not slowing down the progression of the field. According to BIS Research, the syn-bio agriculture and food sector is expected to grow by $14.12 billion in 2025, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.56 percent from 2020 to 2025.

In agriculture, syn-bio can be used to

  • Optimize plant nitrogen
  • Utilize phosphorous
  • Reduce synthetic fertilizer usage
  • Have photoautotrophic organisms as large-scale production platforms
  • Improve the nutritional value of plants

This is not a complete list but just an idea of what synthetic biology and sustainable agriculture can do. Diverse cropping systems can reduce a farmer’s carbon footprint by up to 300 percent. Using summer fallow with comparable systems can also considerably lower the carbon footprint. Synthetic fertilizers can also be replaced by using nitrogen- and phosphorus-based fertilizers. Like other subfields of syn-bio, rewriting genomes is the basis for the backbone of synthetic biology and sustainable agriculture.

Synthetic Biology and Biofuels

Just as with synthetic biology and sustainable agriculture, syn-bio can be used in bioengineering and biofuels. Syn-bio can improve existing biofuel production from plants, and create new “cell factories,” which can generate energy from nontraditional and traditional methods. This can come through strain improvement of organisms that are already capable of generating energy or through strain development, importing genes to hosts and generating energy in that way. Synthetic biology is currently being used to produce biodiesel through an industrial phospholipase generated by Pichia pastoris, produce ethanol using thermophilic microorganisms, and produce biodiesel with renewable farnesene, which is produced by engineered yeast on sugar cane.

Synthetic Biology and Sustainable Agriculture: The Ethics and Risks of Synthetic Biology

In a 2010 manuscript published in The Journal of Medical Ethics, the authors write, “A unique ethical concern about synthetic biology is that it may result in the creation of entities which fall somewhere between living things and machines,” and this continues to be one of the most serious ethical concerns raised when it comes to syn-bio as a whole.

However, in the decade-plus since that article was published, many would agree that syn-bio’s benefits, particularly in synthetic biology and sustainable agriculture, far outweigh the risks.

There are, of course, working hazards for those in the field of synthetic biology, but there are risks and hazards in most working environments in life sciences and biology. Biosecurity hazards exist, too; it is certainly not out of the scope of possibility for researchers or scientists to genetically engineer organisms to cause deliberate harm. Again, this needs to be heavily weighed with benefits and risks.

To learn more about synthetic biology and sustainable agriculture, or to learn what tools you need for a syn-bio lab, contact Hudson Robotics today to speak with a representative to receive a quote.