A Future with Synthetic Biology
A Future with Synthetic Biology
Today we live in a complex world populated by 7 billion people. In less than ten years, all parties in the agreement will showcase their progress in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Just as nations started to get on track, COVID-19 became a pandemic.
The Sustainability Problem
Crops are either edible or go through a process for commercial usages, such as wearable materials or fuel. Requirements to cultivate these plants are water, fertilizer, great weather, soil, and human capital.
Now imagine a day without agriculture. Let’s examine the possible outcomes, ten dollars for a small coffee, chicken sandwich wars becoming exclusive to those who can afford options for $30, and cosmetic products fully synthetic or essential oils rarer than a Cartier sunrise ruby ring.
Human capital in the ag industry relies on immigration, enabling people to put food on their table- but it’s a touchy subject. Without farmworkers, who’s going to cultivate and harvest the land?
Then there’s climatic change. Whether you are entirely on board or have a bit of doubt, it is happening.
Remember, it all starts on the farm. Food, energy, and medicine are provided to you at a cost — the cost of advanced and inefficient technology prices out most people. How then do we solve most of these issues?
The answer quite possibly for more than 90% of the issues comes down to synthetic biology.
Defining Synthetic Biology
As with most people, they hear the word synthetic; they instantly turn away as if they were about to taste frog legs. I’ll break it down.
The field of synthetic biology encompasses various aspects of engineering, mathematics, bioinformatics, chemistry, biology, and few others. Doing so creates a field of science that focuses on redesigning organisms to develop valuable systems for human survival.
Take, for example, the impact of golden rice, insulin, and the future of medicine, energy, and materials. Countless numbers of people survive due to the implication of these innovations, and tomorrow sustainability will become achievable.
It all starts with a computer program evaluating and predicting nucleic or proteomic sequences that have potential value. For instance, take the in silico development of a robust enzyme to replace chemical dependence in the textile industry.
Potential of Synthetic Biology
It has taken some time, but society will understand the value of synthetic biology through proper scientific communication. It is a powerful approach to solving disease and resource constraints.
As COVID-19, Ebola, and other diseases continue to be a threat to humanity. New vaccines proven to have high efficacy were designed and developed by scientists using synthetic biology workflows.
Can we improve food and commercial crops, and why? To meet the global food demand (elimination of food insecurity), farmers need to increase their production output by 50-fold to account for non-edible products.
Try to increase your garden output by 10-fold. It is not so easy as one may think.
With technological advances, we can bioengineer plants to increase bioactive compounds, protein production or improve growth cycles. Are you worried about GMOs? There are quality assurance mechanisms, and I dislike to be the one to state this to you, but your diets most likely consist of such foods.
Most people hate palm oil, and they are rightful to do so, but they are severely misinformed. It’s not their fault, but palm oil native to Africa (West Africa) is sustainable.
What’s my point? If we shift towards unsustainable consumption of low-yield vegetable oil-producing crops, it’s essential to bioengineer these alternatives to decrease the outcomes from increased land deforestation.
We also have opportunities in biomining and biomaterials. These two are the categories of the most critical concern.
Biomining is the application of using microbes to extract mineral ores and the target (e.g., Lithium and Iron). The recent push to increase the production of carbon-neutral systems begs the question, how do we improve mining yields?
The vision of an electric-based federal fleet and improved consumer access to newer innovations requires lower costs. Machine learning creates a unique opportunity for scientists to engineer more robust microbes and reduce toxicity in the mining process.
We must step back to check back into reality. The global food supply chain no longer correlates to food consumption; we farm animals for material resources creating large swathes of deforested land and stockpiles of waste.
Today our capabilities with 3D bioprinters create a smooth path for the race of producing laboratory-grown skins and meats. The key is texture and taste, a plug-and-play feature possible through synthetic biology mechanisms.
Synthetic biology is genuinely remarkable. Nearly 24 years ago, the concept of borrowing tools from the various facets of scientific fields was a new adventure introduced to me.
In the 1990s, computational intelligence began to demonstrate beyond machine learning and natural language understanding and translation. At the same time, biology was evolving through the field of systems biology.
Today well-equipped labs or collaborators can develop thoroughly analyzed robust enzymes in less than two weeks. Evaluation of infectious plant and mammalian diseases can occur in under 15 minutes.
We thought the world would change in ten years, but it changed at the end of 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic uncovered the inequities and gaps throughout our global supply chain.
Regardless if our first signal was the 2003 SARS outbreak or the 2007 world food price crisis, the realities of tomorrow are here today. Life is complicated, but through science, we can unfold the layers of complexities.
There are many opportunities with synthetic biology to solve disease, hunger, and energy limitations. It just requires effort to educate the public and increased investment in the startup ecosystem.
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