Synthetic biology is poised to revolutionize biotechnology by making biology easier to engineer. Canada can and must understand synthetic biology now if it is to benefit from the advancements of tomorrow.
Synthetic biology uses software and robotic tools that are increasingly accessible, powerful and inexpensive to engineer biology, radically changing the pace and economics of biotechnology R&D. The field is white hot, attracting the brightest scientists to the top-tier schools like MIT, Stanford, and Cambridge that embraced the technology early, and seeing breakthrough papers published on an almost weekly basis, including a proposal to write large genomes like the human genome from scratch by 2026. Meanwhile, the global industry is booming, growing at about 45% annually and now pulling in over $1B US per year in venture capital. Like computers, synthetic biology looks to touch nearly every industry and facet of society. It could even change the course of human evolution. With the confidence that engineering life will always be of national importance and relevance to Canadians, the country must make the commitments and investments required to achieve a leadership position and strong voice in synthetic biology.
Andrew Hessel is a futurist and catalyst in biological technologies, helping industry, academics, and authorities better understand the rapid changes happening in life science. He is a Distinguished Researcher with Autodesk in their Bio/Nano Research Group, based out of San Francisco, on the core team of the Genome Project-Write proposal advocating for large genome synthesis and design technologies, and an advisor to several bio-based startups and incubators.