If we eat food, meat, grease, do not need land cultivation and animal husbandry, we can get rid of the fate of food and land resources, if we use gasoline, make a variety of chemical products raw materials, do not need oil, natural gas and other carbon-based energy, we will no longer worry about energy depletion and environmental pollution. If many rare drug ingredients do not need to be extracted from plants and animals, there is no fear of species extinction and excessive killing… These seemingly night-time events are being realized with the rapid development of synthetic biology, and the products we need in the future may be made on the factory floor like beer.
With synthetic biotechnology, artemisinin produced from 100 cubic meters of industrial fermentation tanks is equivalent to the yield obtained from 50,000 mu of agricultural cultivation.
Recently, the Ministry of Science and Technology approved the construction of the National Synthetic Biotechnology Innovation Center, which will provide a strong support for enhancing the innovation ability of enterprises and industries in the synthetic biology field in China.
Create “artificial creatures” with specific functions
As one of the emerging frontier interdisciplinary disciplines, synthetic biology was selected as one of the top ten technologies to change the world as early as 2004 by the MIT Technology Review. Wang Qinhong, deputy director of the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that synthetic biology is the use of engineered design concepts, the purpose of the design, transformation and even re-synthesis of organisms, creating “artificial organisms” that can accomplish specific functions or be given unnatural functions. It is the “third biological science revolution” after the discovery of DNA double helix structure and genome sequencing, which promoted the qualitative change of human code of life from “reading” to “writing”, and made it possible for human beings to overcome the limitations of natural evolution and make it possible to design nature to serve humans.
“Synthetic biology is the redesign and transformation of life systems at the molecular level. Wang Chinhong explains that the process is much like IT technology, and that if a computer is to achieve a function, it will require a lot of components to integrate. Genes are the equivalent of components with a variety of functions, and we engineer and integrate the genes of the target substances we need to synthesize, and then load them into chassis cells (currently genetically manipulated brewing yeast and E. coli are commonly used chassis cells), and the redesigned cells are synthetic organisms. In the case of biosynthetic lycopene, for example, we can first extract all the genes needed for lycopene synthesis from tomatoes, then redesign the combination of these genes, then load them into “chassis cells” – E. coli or brewing yeast to obtain synthetic organisms, and then use glucose as raw material, through a process similar to brewing beer. The production of lycopene is exactly the same as the one extracted from tomatoes.
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This seemingly simple process involves the cross-integration of biology and chemistry, engineering, computing, bioinformatics, and so on, as well as a series of core technologies such as genome sequencing, gene chemistry synthesis, gene editing, biocomputing and modeling, protein structure analysis, rational design and directional evolution, and synthetic approach construction and regulation.
“Synthetic biology has made significant scientific breakthroughs, from the successful synthesis of the first cell life in 2010 to the synthesis of functional custom organelles in 2019. Wang Qinhong said that synthetic biotechnology is mainly used in signal conduction, energy conversion, material synthesis and molecular recognition and other fields. Signal conduction can be applied to the intelligent diagnosis and treatment of cancer and diabetes, sensitive detection of diseases in the body, energy conversion can be used for artificial photosynthesis, by redesigning the photosynthesis system in plants, improving the absorption and transformation of energy in photosynthesis plants, shortening the growth cycle of crops and increasing yield, material synthesis is through the construction of synthetic cell factories, Realize the green manufacture of chemical, material and energy, and molecular identification is mainly used in environmental detection, which enhances the ability of molecular signal recognition and improves the sensitivity of detection.
Subverting traditional industry models
“Traditional chemical synthesis, mainly based on oil, natural gas and other carbon-based energy as raw materials, in the production process, may produce a large amount of carbon dioxide and toxic and harmful substances. And the use of synthetic biotechnology, only need yeast, bacteria and so on to do ‘chassis’, with glucose from corn starch as raw materials, we can synthesize the various substances we need. Wang Qinhong further introduced, in addition, can also use straw and other plant fibers as raw materials, and even is currently studying the steps of skipping the synthetic material synth of plant photosynthesis, direct use of carbon dioxide as raw materials, to complete a variety of biosynthesis.
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“Therefore, the application of synthetic biotechnology has upended traditional industrial models in the fields of industry, agriculture, food, medicine and other fields, providing solutions to socio-economic problems and creating new economic growth points at the top of the value chain.” Wang Qinhong said, “At present, synthetic biotechnology is rapidly moving towards practical, industrialization direction.” “
In agricultural products, the use of microbial cells as a cell factory, China has achieved ginseng saponin, lycopene, lampaline, tempura and many other natural products of the synthetic synthesis, forming a new manufacturing model, reducing dependence on land and pollution. Take octanoeth as an example, its biosynthesis cost is 1/200 of plant extraction, 1/2-1/3 of chemical synthesis, the production efficiency is greatly improved, the quality can completely replace chemical synthesis. Wang Qinhong said: “There is also like the main component of the red sky, red kingtian lyin, this ingredient can only be extracted in the red sky growing at an altitude of 4000 meters above the red sky.” And by biosynthesis, it can be produced in a factory. “
In the petrochemical products, China has created a number of chemical synths such as butyric acid, alanine, apple acid and other biological manufacturing routes, subverting the dependence on oil, natural gas and other traditional resources and high pollution of the traditional chemical process. “Take alanine as an example, China has taken the lead in building a 10,000-ton L-alanine biosynthetic route in the world, compared with the chemical synthesis route, the production cost is reduced by 50%, the waste water discharge and energy consumption are reduced by 90% and 40% respectively. Wang Qinhong said.
In the chemical raw materials, the realization of hydroxyproline, inositol, left doba, vitamin B12 and other products of the green new process. Taking inositol as an example, the discharge of synthetic biological process is reduced by more than 90% compared with the traditional process of high phosphorus wastewater, and the cost is reduced by more than 50%.
In the traditional industrial transformation, the application of biological textile, bio-paper, bio-degluing and other green biological processes, to achieve carbon dioxide reduction, reduce sewage discharge, promote traditional industries out of the resources and environmental constraints.
Rapid growth but the urgent need to break through bottlenecks
Although the rapid development of international synthetic biology research, synthetic biology’s underlying technology, biological system construction, practical technology has undergone revolutionary changes, but synthetic biotechnology in order to achieve industrialization, reduce costs, improve the competitiveness of traditional production model is very important. “For example, american synthetic biologists have designed and constructed artificial yeast cells capable of producing the antimalarial drug artemisinin, and their technical capability is to achieve a production of 100 cubic meters of industrial fermentation tanks comparable to the 50,000 mu of agricultural cultivation, reducing the cost of antimalarial drugs by 90%, which is a major example of synthetic biotechnology applications.” Wang Said.
“China has started a little late in the field of synthetic biology, but progress is very fast, and the research of synthetic biology in China, whether in the number of basic scientific research papers published, or the number of technology patent applications, has been in the second place in the international community. Wang Qinhong said that two events in the field of synthetic biology were held in Tianjin recently – the 2019 International Conference on Metabolic Engineering and the 10th China Industrial Biotechnology Development Summit Forum and the 4th Bioindustry Investment Conference. At the conference, Jenss-Nielsen, one of the founders of metabolic engineering, said China is playing an increasingly important role in the global field of metabolic engineering. At the same time, the White Paper on Industrial Biotechnology in China 2019 was released, which comprehensively summarizes the progress and achievements made by China’s industrial biotechnology in basic research, applied research, technology transformation and industrial development in recent years.
“But compared with the United States, China still has a big gap in basic theory, core system, industrial technology and so on. Wang Qinhong admitted that this is mainly reflected in the original iconic work is less, there has not been a similar to “artificial life”, artemisinin synthesis of major breakthroughs; From basic research to applied technological innovation, it is necessary to better connect, to refine the core scientific issues from the demand, to promote the subversive innovation and engineering application of synthetic biology technology, and to support the development of the biological industry.
At present, china in the mechanism and molecular basis of independent cell factory creation, in DNA synthesis, biological component standardization, gene editing system, synthetic biological rational design and other underlying core technology construction, in high-throughput, automated system technology platform construction, there are still shortcomings, it is urgent to break through the technical bottleneck, occupy the commanding heights of international competition.