As long as there have been efforts to understand biology and how organisms and particular biological mechanisms function, there have been parallel efforts to alter biology to better suit a specific need. Even before these organisms were understood on a genetic level, people were breeding animals to make stronger oxen or faster horses, mixing crop strains for higher yield or better flavor, or crossing flowers to create new colors.But the tremendous complexity of biology has, in some ways, kept these approaches more art than science. The goal of using engineering principles to allow scientists to perturb known biological systems and either alter them slightly or even design completely new biological systems still remains a fundamental need in order to cure disease, produce biofuels, and improve crop yield.Today, synthetic biology shows more promise than any previous attempt at creating a biobased engineering discipline. In the past 15 years, the nascent field of synthetic biology has made tremendous advances, beginning with the very first custom-built biological components and gradually progressing to a fully functioning synthetic genome. One of the latest achievements in this scientific field is a new approach to producing synthetic DNA at much higher capacity and far lower cost than current standards, which offers the opportunity for even more innovation.Thanks to synthetic biology initiatives such as the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition, young researchers coming out of academic programs today are the first generation to grow up with a portfolio of biological building blocks at their disposal, making them the first to truly look at biology as a field to which standard engineering principles can be applied.Synthetic bio is more than just an academic endeavor; by expert estimates, the opportunity for biosynthesizable approaches in the chemical development industry is $50 billion, while the same category in biofuels is expected to be a $500 billion market. Considering the potential for synthetic genes to revolutionize these and many other industries, the business opportunities for synthetic biology-based solutions go well into the trillion-dollar-plus realm.In this Viewpoint, we will look at the significant accomplishments that have shaped today’s synthetic biology landscape and consider what may be possible in the coming years based on recent innovations...."
"For years, scientists have hoped that biology would find its engineering counterpart – a series of principles that could be used as reliably as chemical engineering is for chemistry. Thanks to major advances in synthetic biology, those hopes may soon be realized.