From Anti-Venoms to Fertilizers, the Immense Potential for Microbes and Gene-Editing
Microbes, or microscopic organisms, are being used today to combat diseases, improve sustainability, provide consumers with products that align with their values, and much more. With the continued advancement of biotechnology and development of gene-editing technology, the possibilities and benefits of microbes are endless.
Megan Molteni of Wired recently summarized what gene-editing technology means for industrial biotechnology: “Today, with the arrival of precise gene-editing technologies like Crispr and powerful computer algorithms, if you can think of a product, you can design a microbe to make it for you. Companies are starting to brew up everything from vegan meats, eggs, and leather to fossil-fuel-free fertilizers and new anti-venoms and other medicines.”
However, with so many companies working to bring useful microbes to the market, there is a growing need for important testing and data. Via Wired:
For centuries, humans have been cramming microbes into vats and putting them to work. At first it was mostly with the aim of getting tipsy or keeping milk from going bad. But as scientists gained genetic-tinkering tools, they taught yeast and bacteria how to belch out more than just beer and yogurt. Fermented biofuels, food flavorings, and insulin began to hit the market. Today, with the arrival of precise gene-editing technologies like Crispr and powerful computer algorithms, if you can think of a product, you can design a microbe to make it for you. Companies are starting to brew up everything from vegan meats, eggs, and leather to fossil-fuel-free fertilizers and new anti-venoms and other medicines.
There’s just one problem. Before such companies can sell you any of these biologically manufactured wunderproducts, they have to test dozens if not hundreds of versions of microbes to make sure they bet on a winning workhorse. And the explosion in industrial organism engineering is outpacing the fermentation infrastructure required to run those tests. There are too many bugs and not enough jugs.
Fortunately, companies and startups are working to address this bottleneck as the demand for testing and fermentation infrastructure builds.
The microbe boom is here, and the technological breakthroughs we are discovering today will allow us to utilize microbes to help address the demands, needs, and crises of society in the future.