The Innovation of Synthetic Biology and How it can Improve Lives
Synthetic biology has been around for some time, but as scientists learn more about how to use this unique branch of science, it becomes more useful. It’s not uncommon to find researchers working on coming up with new designs for organisms in any given professional institution. The possibilities for the future are endless and it’s quite likely you’ll see even more of this type of design soon.
What Is Synthetic Biology?
At first glance, synthetic biology seems to be an oxymoron, but it is an area of science that has become quite useful over the years. Essentially this type of biology takes an organism and redesigns it to be more useful.
Examples of Synthetic Biology
How is synthetic biology used in today’s world? It’s actually all around you. For example, rubber is a very limited resource, since the isoprene synthase enzyme doesn’t exist outside of rubber trees, to the best of our knowledge. This means that synthetic rubber has been designed and it uses petrochemicals, which are not the best option when it comes to the environment. To resolve this issue, several tire companies are currently working on a fermentation method to create plant-based synthetic rubber.
There are plenty of other ways that this branch of science is being put to use, however.
Giving the Environment a Boost
For some scientists, it’s not about replacing rare substances, but about creating a better world for the future. Everything humans do on the earth has an impact on the environment and some materials cause more issues than others.
A good example of this is the Modular surfactant. Most surfactants are created from oils, including coconut and palm oil, which have an enormous impact on the environment. With Modular’s engineered microorganism, it’s possible to take the 70 billion pounds of soy hullsthat are tossed each year in the US and turn them into useful products. These hulls are non-edible and have no other purpose, but with the microorganism, they can be turned into a surfactant that is used in a range of products, including healthcare products.
You’re probably aware that petroleum-based fuels are not only limited but also quite harmful to the environment. They’re also the cause of many conflicts around the world. What if it were possible to use something else? LS9 is working on just that.
The aim of the company is to replace diesel, one of the most used fuels in the world, with sugars. The sugar sources or renewable carbohydrates can be converted in just one step to make fatty acid methyl ester and an alkane, both of which may be used as fuel. Biodiesel ASTM 6751 and ASTM D975 may sound complex, but they’re actually much better for the environment than petrochemicals and require no hydrogen to process. It also uses renewable sources, which is far better than the rapidly depleting petroleum.
Making the World Healthier
Vaccines are another area where synthetic biology is at work. Producing vaccines requires antigen identification using bacterial toxins, weak viruses, or pathogens and is extremely time-consuming. However, with synthetic biology, the company Life Technologies has managed to synthesize pre-designed antigens, as well as variants. This speeds up the process of creating vaccines, something that is in high demand.
Simpler ways the synthetic biology is being used include:
– Microorganisms used to eliminate pollution from water and soil, as well as the air.
– Rice is being bioengineered to produce beta-carotene to reduce Vitamin A deficiency blindness (in up to 500,000 children each year).
– Growing meat in bioreactors using animal cells, eliminating the need to raise livestock.
– Creating plant-based meat with synthetic heme.
Each of these has the possibility of creating great changes in the near future. Food is a very real issue for people in many areas of the world and the ability to produce better quality food, with more nutrients, in a smaller space, will have a huge impact on how well those areas do. For example, the simple act of adding Vitamin A to rice, which is a staple food in many impoverished countries, could save hundreds of thousands of children’s visual health. That’s many more kids who are able to grow up and support their families and who will not suffer from the many debilitating health problems caused by Vitamin A deficiency.
There’s a long way to go in many areas, but synthetic biology is rapidly progressing and solving problems around the world.
How Synthetic Biology Will Change the World
People tend to be a little skeptical and wary of synthetic biology, but it does have immense possibilities in the future. As you’ve seen, it’s already being used to adjust the way we do things and it’s possible that in just a few years, things like fuels will be easily produced entirely by renewable sources. There will be no need to fight over petroleum, as there will be no real need for it if there are alternatives that are less costly and easy to make.
Perhaps the most powerful change in the future is the ability to vaccinate for genetic issues. Scientists have already managed to edit genomes and DNA in plants to make them hardier, produce more vitamins, and grow without disease — imagine if this could be a possibility for humans. Researchers are already working on this possibility, targeting hereditary issues that are relatively simple and could be fixed with a slight change to the person’s DNA. It will be a while before we see the advancements in this area, as testing must be thorough, but it does hold some pretty impressive potential.
Science is always moving forward and when it comes to synthetic biology, you can expect even more extreme measures in coming years. Scientists will always strive to improve things and it could end up affecting everything from food to your future children’s health. There is no end to the ways this type of science could improve people’s lives.