Synthetic biology can be defined as “the artificial design and engineering of biological systems and living organisms for purposes of improving applications for industry or biological research”. In other words, it consists in synthetically creating organic molecules and matter to replace or edit biological and organic materials.
This new technology could be applied to many different industrial fields: it could be used for the making of structures, polymers, or, more broadly, of anything that we package or produce. It could have applications in bioremediation or solve environmental issues, playing a major role in renewable fuels, sustainable energy and green chemistry fields. It could revolutionise the healthcare system since some of its potential applications are in pharmaceutical industries and cancer cures.
It is estimated that synthetic biology and the industrialisation of SynBio will provide a disruptive set of technologies with a great economic impact. But these new technologies bring about controversial impacts that could influence or violate existing normative values. Commercial exploitation requires appropriate legal and governance frameworks but also a clear understanding from society.
SMART-map has its roots in the idea that civil society has to be included in the participative processes that will help shape the future of technologies. At the same time, the industry sector has to be made aware of technology risks involved with their innovation field.
The development of a Synthetic Biology SMART Map will then provide innovators with a tool to help them take into consideration the societal needs. This tool might include guidelines on how to properly train the workforce, how to construct suitable physical infrastructures as well as new standards for safe working.
Synthetic biology is all about making genetic modifications easier, making it more accessible, making it available for everybody – Rainer Breitling (Manchester Industrial Dialogue keynote speaker)
Think of the wheel: all the wheel did was enabling technologies. Synthetic biology is a bit like that – Janet Bainbridge, Synthetic Biology Leadership Council (Manchester Industrial Dialogue participant)
What makes synthetic biology different from molecular biology? Máté Varga from Eötvös Loránd University explains.
Colette Matthewman from OpenPlant is working to develop open tools for plant synthetic biology. Here she describes one real world application of this technology, that has been developed at the John Innes Centre.
A lot of the applications of synthetic biology are about doing things more cheaply and efficiently, particularly from an environmental perspective. According to Richard Hammond from Cambridge Consultants (Manchester Industrial Dialogue participant).
A really broad audience would be interested in synbio. I think there is a lot of opportunities for skills sharing – Marieke Navin (Manchester Industrial Dialogue participant)
Engage with the public and you may learn something back – Tom Crabbe, UCB Pharma (Manchester Industrial Dialogue participant)