Synthetic biology is a new field of bio-engineering in which scientists design new biological systems. Think of synthetic biology as scientists applying engineering principles to molecular biology and biochemistry. It’s a cycle of designing, building, testing, and redesigning new biological parts, called bioparts.
The term “synthetic biology” was coined in 1974 by renowned geneticist Waclaw Szybalski after genetic advancements in the 1960s foreshadowed a world where scientists could intentionally modify biological systems. In 2010, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute created the first synthetic cell. Since then, the field has proliferated. Read on to learn more about the future of synthetic biology.
Synthetic Biology Challenges
Overcoming current challenges will lead to the future of synthetic biology. For example, synthetic biology uses cell lines to test new bioparts. One of the biggest challenges in the field is choosing a cell line that is appropriate for producing the desired bioparts without losing necessary cellular functions.
As cell lines become more standardized, scientists might be able to use a predictive model to choose the right cell line for a new biopart. This could rapidly increase the speed of developing new biosystems. Think about it like standardizing the size of common building materials, like screws or bricks, and how much that has sped up the construction of non-biological systems.
Expanding and standardizing the tools used to develop organisms will make synthetic biology more effective.
The Future of Synthetic Biology
A second major challenge shaping the future of synthetic biology is the ethical challenge posed by new biotechnology. For example, the Human Genome Project sought to map the entire human genetic code.
This project is considered one of the great success stories in synthetic biology. It faced criticism from people who worried that this level of genetic information might lead to genetic discrimination. Synthetic biosystems that use human DNA have weighty ethical decisions involved. Most people would agree that a synthetic human cell line that kills cancer cells is beneficial, but what are the ethical implications of developing synthetic human organs?
Looking Ahead: Synthetic Biology Advancements
Currently, synthetic biology’s role in medicine is limited to drug production. As synthetic biology and traditional biology knowledge expands, synthetic biology has promising applications in living theranostic systems.
Diagnosing and treating diseases internally with a living system would be a major breakthrough in medicine. Developing pluripotent stem cells for medical therapy is a second promising application in the future of synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology is already being used in manufacturing. For instance, it has been used to create synthetic fragrances to replace the use of rare plants in the perfume industry. The demand for renewable and biodegradable materials increases as concern over petroleum-based plastics increases. Synthetic biology makes it easier to produce chemicals and other difficult materials to come by in different ways. Expect to see more biomaterials developed with synthetic biology systems in the coming decade.
Markets will see major growth in new product development in medical and manufacturing synthetic biology applications in the future. It’s also likely that as biotechnology improves, these products will become cheaper and easier to create. It may seem futuristic, but a world where most products are linked with living systems may be closer than you imagine.
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