The power of synthetic biology for bioproduction, remediation and pollution control

Víctor de Lorenzo, Kristala LJ Prather, Guo‐Qiang Chen, Elizabeth O'Day, Conrad von Kameke, Diego A Oyarzún, Leticia Hosta‐Rigau, Habiba Alsafar, Cong Cao, Weizhi Ji, Hideyuki Okano, Richard J Roberts, Mostafa Ronaghi, Karen Yeung, Feng Zhang, Sang Yup Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The agenda of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [1] challenges the synthetic biology community—and the life sciences as a whole—to develop transformative technologies that help to protect, even expand our planet's habitability. While modern tools for genome editing already benefit applications in health and agriculture, sustainability also asks for a dramatic transformation of our use of natural resources. The challenge is not just to limit and, wherever possible revert emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases, but also to replace environmentally costly processes based on fossil fuels with bio‐based sustainable alternatives. This task is not exclusively a scientific and technical one but will also require guidelines and regulations for the development and large‐scale deployment of this new type of bio‐based production. Some recent advances that can (or soon could) enable us to make progress in these areas—and several possible governance principles—need to be addressed.The potential of biotechnologyThe transformative power of modern, science‐based biotechnology that started in the late 1970s has been accelerated by recent developments, such as massive DNA synthesis/sequencing, systems and synthetic biology, and CRISPR tools for genome editing. The interface of these disciplines and techniques with other flagship technologies of the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution [2], such as artificial intelligence, robotics, big data, ITs, and so on, will usher in a society, economy and industry that are very different from what we know today. So far, market forces have pushed most research efforts towards health‐related issues and agricultural productivity, as these areas can more easily harvest low‐hanging fruits of contemporary systems‐based biotechnology. But the spectacular advances in biomedicine and agricultural technologies are happening during an acute global environmental crisis caused by overpopulation, loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Thus, environmental sustainability is at the core …
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere45658
Number of pages6
JournalEMBO Reports
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


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