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#BIOWC17: Utilizing Synthetic Biology as a Tool to Combat Global Challenges

July 24, 2017
Across the globe, we’re facing a number of major challenges, from climate change to infectious diseases to a quickly growing global population. Biotech companies are utilizing synthetic biology to address these issues, creating economic and environmental opportunities along the way.

A session highlighting just that – “Utilizing Synthetic Biology to Address Global Challenges” – kicked off the Synthetic Biology and Genomics Research track at the 2017 BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology.

The panel was moderated by Bruce Dannenberg, Founder, President and CEO of Phytonix Corporation and featured the following speakers:

  • Nick Bourdakos – Senior Fermentation Engineer, LanzaTech

  • Peter Lindblad – Professor, Uppsala University

  • Vikramaditya Yadav – Assistant Professor, The University of British Columbia

  • Andy Bass – Senior Vice President, Customer Sector, Intrexon

Phytonix presented its process of using photosynthesis and cyanobacteria to produce renewable chemicals. Cyanobacteria consume CO2 to store energy as glycogen, but Phytonix uses synthetic biology to convert their metabolic pathway to generate butanol. By using carbon dioxide in production, the Phytonix process reduces greenhouse gas emissions – by 1 ton CO2 per 125 gallons of bio-butanol.

LanzaTech uses waste carbon to create fuel. They have developed a process for capturing the carbon emissions from industrial manufacturers – such as steel mills – and recycling them into fuel and chemical products through a process of gas fermentation – helping reduce emissions.

Andy Bass of Intrexon focused on how to communicate the benefits of synthetic biology to consumers. Intrexon-owned Oxitec uses synthetic biology-based genetic engineering techniques to modify mosquitos in an effort to combat diseases like Zika. As Bass noted, synthetic biology can be leveraged to create sustainable, biobased products, but in order for these to become widely used, it’s important to foster consumer understanding and a desire to use biobased products.

As Vikramaditya Yadav stated during the session, synthetic biology can’t solve every problem, but it can make huge contributions in combating climate change, epidemics, famine and more.