As we grow accustomed to artificial intelligence in our daily lives, prepare for a new disruptor: synthetic biology, or syn-bio, the design and engineering of biological systems to create and improve processes and products. It promises to become a manufacturing paradigm of the future.

Recent advances in molecular, cellular and systems biology have allowed scientists to focus syn-bio research towards design and engineering, creating truly mind-blowing applications. By using microorganisms, for example, companies can now make endless things, cell by cell, from scratch. This offers new ways to produce almost everything humans consume, from flavors and fabrics to food and fuels.

By the end of the decade, syn-bio could be widely used in manufacturing industries that account for more than a third of global production, according to the BCG Henderson Institute, the strategic think tank of the Boston Consulting Group. Various sources estimate that the syn-bio market is now around $10 billion and is expected to grow to $30 billion within the next five years.

Artificial intelligence, meanwhile, will accelerate research into syn-bio processes, identifying promising molecules and their likely reactions in the vast universe of possible molecules, both natural and man-made. Generative AI, which creates new data after absorbing amounts of knowledge greater than any human being could possibly absorb, will provide new solutions, whether new materials or new approaches to solving problems. old problems.

Microorganisms will play an increasingly important role in building a sustainable world, but their development will combine wet labs with computer simulations, starting with silicone before committing in-vivo, in-vitroOr on the site.

These processes will challenge incumbents in sectors such as health and beauty, medical devices and electronics, just as the pharmaceutical and food industries have already been challenged.

Other industries, including chemicals, textiles, fashion and water, could face cost-based competition from syn-bio alternatives. In the longer term, syn-bio is likely to impact sectors such as mining, electricity or even construction.

Syn-bio start-ups are already designing more sustainable products that consume fewer resources and do not use fossil fuels or their derivatives. These products are more durable, generate less waste after use and are generally healthier.

As we enter an era where sustainability becomes an increasingly important factor in consumer purchasing decisions, those who can harness the power of syn-bio to create innovative and sustainable products and processes will have a significant competitive advantage.

Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks and German pharmaceutical giant Bayer have teamed up to design microbial products that help crops such as corn, wheat and rice convert nitrogen into forms they can use more efficiently. This reduces the amount of fertilizer needed, thereby reducing the environmental impact of farming.

In the pulp and paper industry, companies like Novozymes use enzymes produced by microbial fermentation to reduce water consumption, reduce the amount of wood used per ton of product and minimize the sector’s carbon footprint. Notpla uses biomass based on micro-organisms such as algae to manufacture packaging. And altering a microbe’s metabolism can even turn plant waste into biofuel.

The textile industry is already changing due to bio-engineered dyes and processing chemicals. Startups such as PILI use enzymes to convert carbon from renewable sources into molecules that can be used to produce dyes, reducing waste and by-products. Since textile manufacturers can use syn-bio dyes without changing their production systems, organic dyes are poised to capture the $33 billion market over the next five years.

Another industry that should be transformed is that of 1,4-butanediol. BDO, as it is commonly known, is a colorless viscous liquid used as a solvent in the manufacture of plastics, elastic fibers and polyurethanes. BDO’s major manufacturers currently produce over 1 million metric tons per year, using hydrocarbon feedstocks. But several syn-bio companies have worked to produce bio-BDO from sustainable sources. If all BDO manufacturers switched to bio-BDO manufacturing, it would stop the emission of over 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of millions of people.

One of the most intriguing applications on the horizon is DNA data storage, a technology that uses DNA to store digital information. It’s still in development, but with over 11 trillion gigabytes of data already in existence and at least 2.5 million gigabytes being added every day, it could offer a solution to the world’s growing data storage problems.

CEOs in all industries should start preparing for syn-bio now, approaching it as they would any other disruptive technology by planning for its immediate development and long-term evolution. As with digital technologies, syn-bio will require companies to rethink their business models, make substantial investments in R&D, and navigate complex partnerships and joint ventures with start-ups at the forefront of syn-bio.

Significant challenges remain in moving from experiments to large-scale solutions for many applications, but AI is helping solve scaling issues.

Can you imagine a world where microbes begin to replace machines?

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