Synthetic biology is fast emerging as a promising new area of exploration and study in biotechnology, with many exciting applications in areas as diverse as medicine, food science, agritech, biomanufacturing, environmental initiatives, and scientific research. This newly evolving area of biotechnology employs an engineering approach to biology in order to create and use tools that allow scientists to design and build functions in cells.
Synthetic biology is one of the fastest growing markets within biotech today. In 2017, around 50 U.S. companies secured $1.7 billion for innovative synthetic biology technologies and the global market is expected to grow to $11.4 billion by 2021. Furthermore, many economic reports forecast even more substantial growth after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, projecting that the market may grow to $19.8 billion by 2025. These projections indicate the strong likelihood of a corresponding rise in biotech job opportunities in the next five to ten years, underscoring the need for investing in strong workforce development programs now to train skilled technicians for future jobs within this important, high-growth sector of the biotechnology industry.
Synthetic biology represents the new frontier or latest evolution of biotechnology and builds on recent advances in molecular, cell, and systems biology. Both traditional biotechnology and synthetic biology focus on the modification, manipulation, or creation of biological elements (i.e., enzymes, DNA). However, synthetic biology takes this mode of scientific inquiry even further by accelerating the scientific discovery process and making it more efficient and precise. Modern tools and technologies (CRISPR, Gibson cloning, Golden Gate Assembly) have made research and development in industrial biotechnology faster and synthetic biology is using these tools to explore not just cloning but new areas, such as metabolic engineering, cell-free applications, biomaterials, and biosensors. In the Bay Area, for example, food tech is the “hottest” growth area in the synthetic biology field.