The DNA has been piquing human interest for quite some time now. While man has been able to decipher some genomes, there are zillions of others that are sending out teaser signals to be decoded. And while these cryptographic challenges keep coming, man has been able to build new genomes from scratch in the lab by a process what we today call synthetic biology.
DowDuPont leads the CRISPR global patent landscape, while Broad Institute owns critical eukaryotic patents, finds an iRunway Research. Click here to read the report.
Now, synthetic biology is not only about engineering new biological parts or organisms, but also extends to redesigning natural biological ecosystems to improve biological functions. This entire exercise of rewiring biological ecosystems is set to change the way we live in the coming years. It is working towards ushering in a future of cheaper drugs and targeted attack on diseases, including cancer cells.
Vaccines get a bio boost
Developing new vaccines is a time consuming process involving the need to identify antigens and produce immunogens to treat diseases. Synthetic biology is set to usher in an era of highly reduced vaccine production time. Researchers are pressing into practice molecular engineering tools to sequence genetic information and formulate vaccines at a faster pace.
Biosynethetic medicines for Type-2 Diabetes
Merck’s Sitagliptin, marketed as Januvia®, is a treatment for type II diabetes. While this chemically manufactured drug is on the green track, Merck has gone a step further by collaborating with Codexis to develop another transaminase using biocatalysts.
Forget the pacemakers. Synthetic biology brings for a new age with biosensors that can permanently reside inside the human body and detect pre-programmed-to-recognize diseases. It is engineered to release the required drug in dosages required to tackle the detected disease.
Low cost sugars for petroleum substitutes
Sugars produced from the volatile petroleum feedstocks is an expensive affair. The advanced biofuels market which is researching to produce sugars from biomass is already creating a buzz in the industry. The market has already been estimated to clock 21 billion gallons by 2022 by the US Renewable Fuels Standard, and it’s still the beginning of the story.
Synthetic Biology makes inroads in other industries
- Vehicle tires look to nature: Isoprene is the toughening component of rubber that makes tires durable. Unfortunately, synthetic rubber has been heavily dependent on petrochemical production for its manufacturing. But synthetic biology is making a difference with researchers trying to tap into the potential high-efficiency fermentation process to produce an isoprene monomer using biological products. The Regents of The University of Colorado own a patent US 5,849,970 which describes methods to produce isoprene using bacteria. If this enters into mainstream production, the umbrella for green tech in automobiles is set to get wider.
- Acrylic gets a facelift: Procter & Gamble has submitted an application for a patent grant at the USPTO. US 2013/0274520 A1 describes a process to purify bio-based acrylic acid to crude and glacial acrylic acid. The $8 billion acrylic market is looking forward to widespread usage of a renewable bio-based acrylic that has been developed through synthetic biological methods. With this, greenhouse emissions from the acrylic industry is expected to drop by 75 per cent. Also, its manufacturing dependence on petroleum is bound to witness a fall, thus resulting in more stable prices.
- Agricultural wastes for green chemicals: Surfactants are soon to witness reduced dependence on petroleum and palm or coconut oil if the biosynthetic work of researchers in this space sees the light of day. Researchers at The University of Minnesota are developing microorganisms to convert agricultural waste into surfactants that are 10 times more effective than existing ones in the market. Their patent US6565860B1 makes for an interesting read.
Synthetic Biology opens up the job market
This is just a fraction of the 1,195 patents filed in the field of synthetic biology with the USPTO alone. Interest in this field has been increasing over the last decade, with 95 patents filed in 2007 alone.
University of California’s researchers at Berkeley are the most active in this space in the US region, with Cambridge-based Hybridon following suit. Hybridon, which merged with Idera Pharmaceuticals in 2004, concentrates on the development of therapeutics and diagnostics using synthetic DNA.
The period between 1990 and 2010 witnessed an extremele active individual patentee in synthetic biology in Peter Schultz. He has been conducting basic research related to molecular biological building.
Synthetic biology is destined to become critical to building the nation’s wealth. It has the potential to transform the world’s industry in the fields of energy, health and environment, producing a new era of wealth generation and creating large job opportunities.
(Featured image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:DNA_methylation.jpg)