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Synthetic biology: environmental scan - technologies and markets


The report defines synthetic biology as either the design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems or the re-design of existing, natural biological systems for useful purposes. This environmental scan aimed to provide a brief overview of the key developments in the synthetic biology market and the associated risks, challenges and considerations. It acted as a precursor to a more in-depth foresighting report, which would identify specific opportunities in synthetic biology and establish the potential for generating IP.


The methodology consisted of: descriptions of tools and enabling technologies; examples of applications and projects; a list of leading players in the synthetic biology market; and an analysis of ethics and risks within the synthetic biology market.


The report notes that synthetic biology is a relatively new area of technology, although several applications are already emerging. Synthetic biology technology may provide tools to circumvent the technical impasses facing areas such as biofuels, bioremediation and the cost-effective production of natural medicines. The tools and enabling technologies include: standardised cloning; de novo DNA synthesis; and chassis engineering. Several synthetic biology start-ups have attracted venture funding. Synthetic biology displays similar characteristics to genetically modified crops in terms of public perception of novelty, uncertainty and controllability. Concerns have been raised about the biosafety aspects of synthetic biology, as opposed to its deliberate misuse. The report suggests that the synthetic biology community is keen to self-regulate, largely focused on biosecurity, in order to ensure good practice and to address a range of concerns about their research.


The report suggests that further analysis will seek to establish: specific opportunities; the level of maturity of key technologies; the dependency on systems biology; the expertise and appetite level within Scotland; and the barriers to development, including safety, security and IP cost and competition.

Author ITI Life Sciences
Published Year 2010
Report Type Research
  • Business infrastructure
    Supporting key sectors
  • Enterprise
    Sector-level support
  • Sectors
    Life Sciences