The Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) released a report about the present and future of synbio in Australia. The full report can be freely downloaded here.
Synthetic biology provides new ways to address major societal challenges in energy and food production, environmental protection and healthcare. The rapid advancement of synthetic biology as a field is being driven by major investments made by several leading research nations, including the US, the UK, China, Singapore and Korea.
Australia cannot ignore the synbio revolution, but also cannot just copy what other countries are doing. The synbio development has to be tailored to Australia’s needs and create capabilities with a lasting impact.
Synthetic Biology in Australia: An outlook to 2030 explores the opportunities and issues that synthetic biology will be likely to exert in Australia over the coming decade. It examines synthetic biology from varying perspectives: its emergence and increasing importance in mainstream research, commercial and industrial applications; Australia’s contribution to global efforts to address major societal challenges in energy and food production, environment protection and healthcare; and also by considering the social, ethical and regulatory frameworks that will be needed to support and govern the field’s advancement in Australia.
The report starts by defining synthetic biology – a non-trivial task, as seen by the various definitions used by different bodies listed in the report appendix. The definition below is notes key synbio characteristics, but avoids being too restrictive (therefore excluding potential future applications):
Synthetic biology is the rational design and construction of nucleic acid sequences or proteins – and novel combinations thereof, using standardised genetic parts.
The report presents the current state of synbio, and identifies the areas where Australia should improve – namely synbio education, industry translation, and infrastructure.
The most interesting part of the text is the application fields, where synthetic biology is expected to have a profound impact. The authors of the report recognise industry and energy, agriculture, environment, and medicine as the areas of opportunity. The specific applications to be pursued are important for one extra reason: as noted in the final report section, which studies the social, ethical, and legal implications of synbio, public acceptance of a synbio application heavily depends on the area and the type of problem that it solves.
The ACOLA report is addressed to a very broad audience – politicians, researchers, funding bodies, media, and the general public. It is a frame of reference for synbio policimaking, and hopefully it will facilitate more initiatives and even more exciting synbio research!