In a world with self-driving cars and 3-D printers, technology is advancing every single day, impacting our society and the way we live. We are constantly working to defeat our competition – striving to create products with improved efficiency and effectiveness. However, with a successful product, the challenge lies in the ability to feed growing demand. So, how do we do it? The Biotechnology industry is well on its way to helping answer that question.
Yeasts have evolved over millions of years, creating energy from sugars and emitting alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Humans have modified these organisms to their advantage, using their by-products to make alcoholic drinks and risen baked goods. Using synthetic biology, genetically modified yeast is changing the face of production as we know it. Biotech firm Amyris is creating over 1,500 new organisms a day from various forms of genetically modified yeast and the opportunities are endless; medicines, cosmetics, flavorings, etc. can all be produced with the technology being applied. Utilizing this biology, we have the ability to employ yeasts as hosts to manufacture desired products.
This concept of a ‘bio-factory’, production through living systems, allows us to increase production rate and product yield. Biotech firm Amyris partnered with pharmaceutical company Sanofi, to manufacture artemisinin, an herbal remedy found to be more than 90% effective at curing Malaria. However, historical shortages of the plant have impacted ability to produce the life-saving drug, often failing to meet demand. This biotech partnership has utilized genetic engineering and synthetic biology to produce over 70 metric tons of artemisinin – roughly equivalent to 140m courses of treatment. The potential is vast and this is only one example of what genetic engineering could create in the near future.
However, not everyone is a supporter of this technology. Environmental groups have spoken out, claiming that we can’t predict the long-term effects of bio-factories, citing global warming as an example of what could happen. Other critics claim we are “playing God” by interfering with natural production. But hey, if you’re not willing to contribute to the solution, don’t complain about the problem. Our population is growing at an increasing rate, and bio-factories offer a sustainable production method that can keep up with rising demand.
While biologists cannot address concerns about what will happen in the future, they can prove what we are capable of doing right now – we are using biology and technology to forever alter the way we produce fuels, pharmaceuticals, crops, and more. We are creating opportunity to resolve food and medicine shortages in third-world countries and reduce the carbon emissions that have such a detrimental impact on our environment. The possibilities are boundless — Biotechnology has the ability to revolutionize our planet and offers the path to a sustainable future.