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Future Prospects for Industrial Biotechnology

image of Future Prospects for Industrial Biotechnology

The field of industrial biotechnology has moved rapidly in recent years as a combined result of international political desire, especially in the case of biofuels, and unprecedented progress in molecular biology research that has supplied the enabling technologies. Different geographical regions  have different priorities, but common drivers are climate change mitigation and the desire for energy independence. Now, industrial biotechnology has reached the centre of scientific and political attention. At no time in the past has there been a more pressing need for coherent, evidence-based, proportionate regulations and policy measures; they are at the heart of responsible development of industrial biotechnology.

This publication examines the international drivers, the enabling technologies that are fast-tracking Industrial Biotechnology, industry trends, some of the products that are appearing on the market, industry structure and finance, and finally policy measures and trends. It examines separately biofuels, biobased chemicals and bioplastics. It is quite clear that a supportive policy framework for the development of biofuels exists in many countries, but that no such framework is in place for biobased chemicals and bioplastics. This seems at odds with the apparent need for the integrated biorefinery, where chemicals and plastics production will significantly improve profitability when produced alongside transportation fuels. 

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Emerging synthetic enabling technologies

Industrial biotechnology cannot grow simply by developing technology for commercial-scale industrial production. Now is a time of unprecedented progress in the life sciences and industrial biotechnology benefits from advances in a range of core technologies in molecular biology, especially high throughput genomics. This approach is being used to investigate microbial life in extreme environments such as deep oceans. Other technologies that can be used to modify and improve genes and enzymes are metabolic engineering and directed evolution. All of these technologies seem to come together in the new discipline of synthetic biology, which, although already a billion dollar business, is in its infancy. Synthetic biology offers the prospect of creating synthetic life forms and enzymes that either make new materials more effectively, or can create completely new products in a single organism that were previously not possible.

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