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The Alcimed team supports its clients in exploring opportunities and strategies related to synthetic biology across different research areas and applications in medicine, manufacturing, agriculture, and environmental science.
THE Challenges related to synthetic biology
What is synthetic biology and where is it applied?
Synthetic biology is a multidisciplinary field of science that aims to design and engineer new biological systems or modify existing ones to perform specific functions. It is based on the combination of molecular biology, genetics, engineering, and computer science to create artificial biological systems using genetic parts and modules.
The field of synthetic biology aims to enable scientists and researchers to create new biological functions, organisms, or materials with novel properties that cannot be found in nature. This is achieved by designing and assembling DNA sequences, genes, and proteins in a modular fashion, creating biological circuits and networks that can perform specific tasks. Synthetic biology and genome editing appear very similar as both involve changing an organism’s genetic code. The fundamental difference between both is the method used to introduce the changes:
- In synthetic biology typically long stretches of DNA are stitched together and inserted into an organism’s genome. These DNA pieces can either be sourced from another organism or be entirely novel, i.e. obtained through DNA synthesis.
- Compared to this, in genome editing tools are applied to introduce small changes to the organism’s genome by deletion or addition of small stretches of DNA.
Synthetic biology and genome editing have the potential to revolutionize various fields, including medicine, biotechnology, agriculture, manufacturing, and environmental science. Potential use cases include creation of novel biological systems (complex networks which connect several biologically relevant entities), design of new organisms, development of new therapies, improvement of agriculture, creation of new materials such as biodegradable plastic, or detection and remediation of environmental pollution. Overall, the potential applications of synthetic biology are vast and diverse, and the field is rapidly advancing with new discoveries and breakthroughs.
- Insulin production: one of the earliest and most successful applications of synthetic biology was the production of human insulin by bacteria with modified genes. This technology is used today to produce insulin for the treatment of diabetes.
- Anti-malaria drug production: researchers have used synthetic biology to engineer bacteria to produce Artemisinin, an important anti-malaria drug. This has made the drug more affordable and accessible to people in developing countries.
- New cancer therapies: synthetic biology is being used to develop new cancer therapies by engineering cells to detect and destroy cancer cells. One example is CAR-T cell therapy, which involves modifying a patient’s T cells to recognize and kill cancer cells.
- Biodegradable plastics: scientists have engineered bacteria to produce biodegradable plastics using renewable resources like sugar cane and corn. These plastics are more environmentally friendly than traditional plastics, which are made from non-renewable resources like oil.
- Bioremediation: scientists have engineered bacteria to clean up oil spills or degrade polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which are toxic industrial chemicals that persist in the environment for decades.
- Golden Rice: synthetic biology was used to modify the genes of rice to produce β-carotene by adding two genes, a plant phytoene synthase, and a bacterial phytoene desaturase, enabling the β-carotene accumulation in the rice grain. Golden Rice was developed to prevent vitamin deficiency in global regions where rice is a food staple.
What are the main challenges related to synthetic biology?
Synthetic biology and genome editing are a strongly growing field with many potential applications. While already in use to address some challenges in medicine, agriculture, manufacturing, and environmental science, the list of opportunities to address is not exhausted yet. Still, researchers and companies face several technical, ethical as well as business-related challenges:
What are the newest research developments in synthetic biology? What are the trends with regards to synthesizing complex biological systems?
Will concerns related to synthetic biology hinder further progress of synthetic biology? What are the current and proven safeguards?
How will products of synthetic biology be regulated? Who owns and controls the products of synthetic biology?
Who will have access to newly developed technologies and products? How will homogenous access to new technologies and products be ensured?
How will the costs to develop new technologies evolve in the coming years? What could process optimization look like?
How do we support you in your projects related to synthetic biology
Drawing on 30 years of experience working with clients in and around the healthcare and industrial sectors, our team is well prepared to help healthcare, agrifood and environment industrials players to better understand synthetic biology and its developmental potential, boundaries, regulatory restrictions, and necessities to implement synthetic biology strategies.
We mainly work on this topic with R&D departments of companies, as well as marketing or partnership functions. The wide variety of our clients from around the world, and the types of projects we cover give us a global and in-depth understanding in the ever-growing field of synthetic biology and DNA editing.
Our projects cover technology landscaping, understanding future impact on healthcare and industrial businesses, the development of R&D strategy and business plans, research on the market or regulatory framework, search for partners, and many more.
EXAMPLES OF RECENT PROJECTS CARRIED OUT FOR OUR CLIENTS IN SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY
Our purpose? Helping both private and public decision-makers explore and develop their uncharted territories: new technologies, new offers, new geographies, possible futures, and new ways to innovate.
Located across eight offices around the world (France, Europe, Singapore and the United States), our team is made up of 220 highly-qualified, multicultural and passionate explorers, with a blended science/technology and business culture.
Our dream? To build a team of 1,000 explorers, to design tomorrow's world hand in hand with our clients.
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