CSIRO report reveals potential of synthetic biology ecosystem

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A new report from CSIRO says Australia could develop an industry worth up to $27 billion a year and create 44,000 jobs by 2040 by building its synthetic biology ecosystem.

Synthetic biology is a rapidly growing field that applies engineering principles and genetic technologies to biology, drawing on biology, engineering, and computer science, as well as many other fields. 

According to the new report, A National Synthetic Biology Roadmap: Identifying commercial and economic opportunities for Australia, the two biggest areas to benefit from synthetic biology are the food and agriculture (up to $19 billion) and health and medicine sectors (up to $7 billion).

CSIRO says it is focused on developing capacity in synthetic biology including through a new BioFoundry facility in Queensland that provides a bioengineering capability to the research and development community to rapidly design, build and test new biotechnologies. Australia has invested at least $80 million in developing synthetic biology research capabilities in recent years.

Professor Claudia Vickers, synthetic biology director at CSIRO, said the scientific impact was encouraging and with sustained investment can deliver increased impact and economic benefit. 

“Synthetic biology can help overcome a range of global challenges, particularly in agriculture and health. It can also enable Australia to transform its economy by creating new, more sustainable industries and generating jobs,” said Professor Vickers. 

“Bringing technology, the research community and other stakeholders together to enable start-ups, private investment and growth of market share will be essential to achieve the vision outlined in the Roadmap.” 

Greg Williams, the associate director CSIRO Futures and lead author of the report, said Australia needs to act quickly to secure a key role in this emerging global capability.   

“Australia must act now if it is to capitalise on its early research investments and enable the long-term success of this emerging ecosystem,” said Mr Williams. 

“To do that, Australia would need to place a greater focus on the translation and scale-up of synthetic biology into commercial opportunities for global markets.”