BIO's Pacific Rim Summit Kicks Off with Discussion of Synthetic Biology

Biofuels & Climate Change

BIO’s Brent Erickson, host of the Pacific Rim Summit on Industrial Biotechnology, welcomed attendees to the opening plenary session with some observations about trends developing for the coming year. “I have been involved in industrial biotechnology for over a decade now and the changes I have witnessed over the past five years are sweeping, extraordinary and encouraging,” Erickson said. The trends that he identified in his remarks include:

  • Industrial biotech is spreading globally, and some of the most robust commercial developments are occurring in Asia;
  • Despite the global economic challenges all companies face, significant investments are still being made in industrial biotechnologies and processes;
  • As commercialization of large-scale biofuels facilities has slowed, due to financing constraints, commercialization of renewable chemical platforms has surged ahead;
  • Worldwide demand for oil will create even more demand for industrial biotech products over time, as oil prices continue to climb;
  • We are beginning to see new combinations of biocatalysis and conventional catalysis that will lead to exciting new renewable chemical processes;
  • Synthetic biology is a new engine for innovation and will increase the rate of innovation in the laboratory and reduce the time to commercialize new products.

Synthetic Biology BIOFAB Project

The Summit also hosted a session on a new BIOFAB project during the first full day. Dr. Drew Endy of Stanford led a discussion of the rapid pace of discovery in biotechnology and the challenge that presents for business models and safety and security networks, possibly requiring changes to current practices. Synthetic biology envisions reducing the the time and money spent on developing new biotechnology applications by allowing developers to work with DNA through a common programming language, analogous to computer programming, according to Endy. But that is an extraordinarily difficult thing to do.
The BIOFAB, according to Endy, is “a public-benefit facility producing the parts, tools & standards powering the future of biotechnology.” The first project of BIOFAB intends to question a central dogma of biology, that “one can construct, but not design, genomes.” Initial results are being generated, showing that a gene “expression operating unit” can be modeled with a high degree of predictability.

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