Report: World Economic Forum Sees Synthetic Biology as Force to Reset Living Systems

Redesigning organisms for other purposes is a field known as synthetic biology and according to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), its use is going to become more and more common as humanity grapples with an uncertain future.
National Cancer Institute via Unsplash

Redesigning organisms for other purposes is a new field of scientific endeavor known as synthetic biology. According to a report by the World Economic Forum, expect to see (and hear) more about it as scientists look to reset humanity’s future and the “bio-economy” on the back of coronavirus vaccine research.

The study was released Thursday by the Switzerland-based WEF, and proclaims a scientific human reset is near because “Synthetic biology lies at the intersection of an ageing population, climate change and environmental degradation.”

It sets out what it calls the “bioeconomy” that covers all sectors and systems that rely on biological resources (animals, plants, microorganisms, and derived biomass, including organic waste) as well as their functions and principles.

The study points to synthetic biology interlinks between economic and industrial sectors such as food, health, chemicals, materials, energy and services that use biological resources and processes – pretty much everything that sustains and underlines human endeavour.

DNA has its role as well.

Harnessing that scientific variety for the future of humanity is needed, the WEF report argues. The report cautions:

It is anticipated that the world will face increased competition for limited and finite natural resources given a growing population, increasing pressure on our food and health systems, and climate change and associated environmental degradation decimating our primary production systems.

That challenge is met by modifying science to “efficiently produce high performance, sustainable products.”

Put more simply, that is where synthetic biology comes in.

Synthetic biology, proponents say, holds the promise of reprogramming biology to be more powerful and then mass-producing the turbocharged cells to increase food production, fight disease, generate energy, purify water and devour carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as the New York Times points out.

The aim is to follow computing, using biological information as coded in DNA, so it can be programmed — with the goal of redesigning organisms for what the WEF deems useful purposes.

According to the report, the ultimate driver of the research is money.

A recent McKinsey report anticipates applications from this bio revolution could have a direct global impact of up to $4 trillion per year over the next 10-20 years, enabling production of 60 percent physical inputs to the global economy, and addressing 45 percent of the world’s current disease burden, the WEF says.

The WEF has established its own Global Future Council on Synthetic Biology to help drive the research. More can be found out about the council here.

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