The new developments in synthetic biology have created new opportunities in various sectors, especially in the healthcare field. Moreover, incorporation with artificial intelligence will create a new world of synthetic biology that possesses potential to defeat chronic diseases such as cancer and autoimmune diseases.
There are very few fields that are as versatile as synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is a novel field that combines computer engineering, biotechnology, genetic engineering, molecular biology, molecular engineering, membrane science, electrical engineering, biophysics, control engineering, and evolution biology, and several other fields of science. It incorporates designing and construction of new biological systems or development of devices that can be used in various domains. From developing medical services to building artificial intelligence, synthetic biology market has infinite opportunities. Therefore, according to Allied Market Research, the expected to garner $38.7 billion by the end of 2020.
Manufacturing Eco-Friendly Materials Using Synthetic Biology
Synthetic biology can manufacture various eco-friendly products that can completely replace traditional and non-renewable sources-based products such as isoprene and even regularly used acrylic colors. Isoprene is a vital component in the procedure to produce synthetic rubber. Although isoprene is naturally produced by all living things including humans, only rubber trees produce isoprene synthase enzyme, which are available in limited resources. On the other hand, synthetic rubber is manufactured entirely from petrochemical sources, which are also limited. Thus, with the help of synthetic biology, researchers developed a new, reliable, and efficient fermentation-based process to manufacture synthetic rubber, BioIsoprene monomer. The recent advancements in DNA sequencing and DNA synthesis has enabled the construction and rapid characterization of metabolism of microorganisms to produce isoprene. In addition, synthetic biology made it simpler to construct the specific genes that encode the same amino acid sequence as the rubber plant enzyme. This the method has provided a short-cut to identify and track genetic variation. Similar to synthetic rubber, scientists have developed a method to create renewable biodegradable acrylic. OPX Biotechnologies (OPXBIO) has been developing BioAcrylic that can match with traditional petro-acrylic performance and reduce the greenhouse gases emission by 75 percent. According to the researchers, this new product can help reduce oil-dependence and can be offered at a low price. The innovations such as BioIsoprene and BioAcrylic has opened a new era of manufacturing eco-friendly materials using synthetic biology.
Synthetic Biology and Threat of Bioweapons
According to a report published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine, synthetic biology can give rise to the creation of horrifying bioweapons. Michael J. Imperiale, the author of the study and a microbiologist at the University of Michigan Medical School believes that synthetic biology has potential to enable a new type of bioweapons to harm humans. The paper highlights concern regarding recreation of pathogenic viruses such as Ebola and SARS. In addition, synthetic biology can easily be engineered these viruses, making them more lethal by inserting genes that resist antibodies. The researchers are also concerned about people can use synthetic biology to engineer microbes to produce and release biochemicals. Such aftereffects of such biochemicals can be extremely fatal when used as a chemical weapon or food poisoning. However, with strict government rule and stringent policies, the misuse of such advanced technology can be avoided. Moreover, every new and unconventional technology can be used against humanity in one or another way. Thus, researchers believe, it will not be wise to forbid the research on synthetic biology by focusing only on the possible ill effects of it as synthetic biology has potential to open new doors to cure chronic diseases such as cancer.
Synthetic Biology to Treat Fatal Diseases
The team of scientists led by Dr. Alireza Moshaverinia, a professor of prosthodontics at the dental school has developed synthetic T cells that can mimic the function of human cells. The synthesis of this artificial cell can be a step toward to develop an effective treatment for cancer and autoimmune diseases. The T lymphocytes or T cells are vital to fight against cancer and artificial cells can help to understand the basic function of human cells. Moshaverinia stated, “The complex structure of T cells and their multifunctional nature have made it difficult for scientists to replicate them in the lab. With this breakthrough, we can use synthetic T cells to engineer more efficient drug carriers and understand the behavior of immune cells.” The natural T calls are hard to produce as they are extremely delicate and last only for a few days. However, these artificial cells can boost a patient’s immune system and can be activated when an infection enters a body. However, such experiments are performed by a trial-and-error method and need a lot of time to process huge data. To remedy this problem, scientists are now incorporating artificial intelligence (AI) into synthetic biology. There are several points where AI can help improve efficiency and reduce the time required for the engineered artificial genetic unit. Moreover, there are several studies that highlight how AI can help synthetic biologists with reasoning, multiagent systems, and robotics. That being said, synthetic biology has enormous opportunities in future, but the technology should be used with conscience or it won’t take much time for synthetic biology to become a threat to the society.
Source: Allied Analytics, 2018-07-05.
Author: Satyajit Shinde