MANHASSET, N.Y. A report on synthetic biology warns that commercialization of so-called "syn-bio" products may be further away as applications move up the evolutionary scale.
Energy applications could be an early application for syn-bio technology, particularly with the push to stimulate energy research through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
"Startups sequencing or synthesizing DNA to program microbes, for example, are already operating in established markets and with well-defined products like biofuels, drugs, and specialty chemicals," said Mark Bünger, research director at Lux Research and the report's lead author. "Meanwhile, engineered cells leading for devices like DNA circuits or biosensors remain at the proof-of-concept stage."
Promising everything from algae-derived petroleum to drought-resistant crops, the report said synthetic biology is rapidly sprouting new technologies in energy, health care, specialty chemicals and agriculture. Despite the diverse nature of syn-bio's growth opportunities, however, there's been little meaningful analysis of the field to date, according to the report.
"Countless commercially-valuable materials like penicillin and crude oil, and processes like carbon sequestration and bio-remediation, all derive from plants' and animals' metabolic pathways, which are in turn determined by their genes," said Bünger. "Synthetic biology has opened new pathways for us to reprogram those metabolic pathways like software, and design products."
The report "Synthetic Biology's Commercial Roadmap," covers product types enabled by synthetic biology, and where and when those products could become competitive.
Lux said it evaluated 72 companies' activities and examined 231 patents and 615 scientific papers. It identified 41 private investments in the syn-bio market so far.
Among the Lux Research report findings:
Corporations are investing directly into startups, such as Chevron's funding of Solazyme, while venture capitalists like Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in fuel- and medicine-makers like Amyris, LS9 and Gevo.
Organizations are using the open-source software movement as a model, and playing a central role in advancing synthetic biology.
Government funding in Europe is coordinated, including the European Union's program which provides funding for 18 synthetic biology research and policy initiatives and five economic development projects.