Synthetic biology future applications and technology needs

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This page collects together some ideas about potential future applications for synthetic biology, broken down by technology readiness levels, and a list of some of the technologies that need to be developed to realize those applications.


TRL Application Comments
0 Synthetic cells Ability to design and implement cell-like systems containing multiple subsystems to enable energy generation/transfer, sensing, actuation (export of chemicals, movement), decision-making, memory and other functions. Individual functions have been demonstrated in isolation, but limited demonstration of integrated synthetic cells are available. The Biuld-A-Cell consortium is organized around this problem.
1 Engineered multi-functional (living) materials Biology is able to make materials that have a combination of functional properties, including protection, coloration, transport of materials, structural strength, texture, etc. As we push forward in synthetic biology, we can combine engineered living and nonliving materials to provide similar functions, though we are a long way off from this goal. DARPA's Engineered Living Materials (ELM) program was a start.
3 Cell-based chemical detection and logging Biology is able to perform molecular recognition at a level of concentration and specificity that in many cases exceed what is possible with traditional chemical and electronic means. Cells can also be engineered to provide persistent "situational awareness" (of their environment) and to log the history of what they have seen in their environment (via a variety of DNA recording technologies that are being developed).
3 Cell-free chemical detection There is lots of excitement (and a couple of startup companies) that are looking at cell-free (often paper-based) detection of biomolecules that hold promise as an inexpensive, durable (?), and lightweight sensors. Cell-free sensors also have the advantage that they don't require the use of living organisms in an open environment.
2 Gut microbiome engineering Comments
2 Wound microbiome engineering Comments
2 Plant microbiome engineering Comments
4 Environmental bioremediation Comments
1 Engineered (biological) surface coatings Comments
1 Environmentally responsive materials Comments
3 Point-of-need manufacturing Comments
2 Hybrid silicon cell sensors Comments
7 Metabolic engineering/materials production The use of engineered metabolic pathways to make (relatively simple) chemicals is an active area of business, with chemicals ranging from insulin to spider silk to food products. The basic technology is implementation of a enzymatic pathway to produce a biologically tractable chemical in a fermentable organism (e.g., yeast, E. coli).


TRL Technology Comments
? Low-cost DNA synthesis/assembly Comment
? Circuit design libraries and tools Comment
? Subsystem engineering and modularity Comment
? Cell-free prototyping Comment
? Model-based design Comment
? Multi-cellular consortia and engineered commensals Comment
? Engineered multi-cellular organisms Comment
? Engineered macromolecular machines Comment
? Programmable (and orthogonal) sensing and communications Comment
? Mutation-resistant systems/mutation compensation
? Non-exponential phase circuitry
? Electronic interfaces