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Illustration of DNA and applications for article on synthetic biology.
Published On: February 22nd, 2022

Synthetic biology is most commonly associated with the medical industry, but there are also synthetic biology applications in agriculture, industrial technology, food, and environmental protection. In addition, the biomaterials and organisms produced by synthetic biology techniques are changing engineering design and in particular, materials selection.The synthetic biology market is expected to reach 23.98 billion USD by 2025. With more laboratory automation tools available, this field is growing rapidly. Read on to find out how synthetic biology applications are changing the world.

Synthetic Biology Definition

What is synthetic biology? Before we dive into synthetic biology applications, let’s go over the basics. Synthetic biology is an emerging field of science and engineering that uses synthetic processes to design, alter, and create biological components.

These biological components can range from proteins to entire organisms. Think about it this way: every living organism has a set of instructions in its DNA that tell it how to get energy, expel waste, and reproduce. Synthetic biology is the modification of those instructions to get different results.

Two major scientific breakthroughs have made synthetic biology possible: CRISPR-Cas9 and PCR. CRISPR-Cas 9 is a technique that lets biologists remove and replace a portion of the gene sequence. PCR is a technique that lets biologists copy DNA many times to be easier to study. Together, scientists can use PCR to study DNA and CRISPR-Cas9 to introduce changes to that DNA. Both techniques require protein expression and purification.

Medical Synthetic Biology Applications

Synthetic biology has three primary purposes in medicine: improving treatments, creating testing environments, and reducing infection risk. Vaccines often use live viruses that have been weakened.

Synthetic biology allows scientists to weaken viruses at the genomic level, leading to safer and more effective vaccines. Synthetic biology plays a key role in drug development. Scientists create cell cultures that can mimic human body parts without requiring a human donor. Finally, synthetic biology can make vectors of disease less dangerous by altering viral and bacterial DNA to reduce the ability to infect. The medical field is the most obvious industry for synthetic biology applications, but it’s far from the only one.

Industrial Synthetic Biology Applications

Synthetic biology can create biomaterials. As organisms like bacteria metabolize energy sources like sugars, they release metabolic byproducts. Synthetic biology allows scientists to change the genes of bacteria so that the metabolic byproducts can be used in place of more traditional materials.

For example, there are microorganisms that have been engineered to release a chemical used in rubber tire production. Previously, this chemical could only be derived from petroleum.

Replacing chemicals and fuel sources that are petroleum-derived with biomaterials is an exciting use of synthetic biology.

Environmental Synthetic Biology Applications

Synthetic biology has several novel environmental applications beyond making biomaterials available for industrial purposes. The first synthetic biology patent was given in 1981 for a bacteria modified to clean up oil spills.

Synthetic biology restores ecosystems. The American chestnut tree lost 99% of trees when a blight from an overseas chestnut was introduced on American soil. Through synthetic biology, the DNA of the chestnut tree was altered to resist the blight, bringing the ecosystem back to its natural state. Read on to discover how similar plant modifications are transforming agriculture.

Food and Agriculture Synthetic Biology Applications

Chestnut trees aren’t the only plant that is attacked by molds, pests, or fungi. Grain crops like wheat require pesticides to preserve crops.

Genetic modifications can help wheat farmers use fewer pesticides while maintaining a high yield. Beyond modifying plant crops, synthetic biology can help with food production. Food technology companies are growing animal cells for use in synthetic meat products that don’t require harvesting meat from a living animal.

Synthetic biology will enable farmers to create nutritious crops without sacrificing volume as the focus shifts from food quantity to food quality.

The Future of Synthetic Biology Applications

Synthetic biology is part of a shift away from plastics and towards organic materials. With lab automation tools and novel techniques, scientists are equipped to further develop the field. It’s exciting to picture a future where we can harness the power of biological systems to improve technology.

With such a wide range of synthetic biology applications, it’s clear that synthetic biology is a powerful tool. Would you like to get started with synthetic biology in your lab or company?

Contact Hudson Robotics for help designing an automated lab workflow that fits your needs.