New ACOLA report points to natural opportunities from synthetic biology

The ever-inquisitive, eternally-optimistic Chief Scientist Alan Finkel thinks synthetic biology has vast promise, so he commissioned a report from the Australian Council of Learned Academies  on what it can accomplish. It is published today, in ACOLA’s horizon scanning series.

 Synthetic biology is based on gene technology and “applies engineering principles to biology.” ACOLA suggests the science can create new products in a range of Australian industries including agriculture, pharmaceuticals and biofuels. And, in line with the present government orthodoxy, it is less about abstractions than applications.  “Synthetic biology has a strong focus on providing workable solutions in a wide range of application areas,” the report states.

Australia is also well-placed to develop synthetic biology applications with research strengths in the disciplines it is based on. “Australia’s university system is strong in physical sciences, life sciences, engineering and technology, and computer sciences. The number of Australian universities in the top 100 in these fields compares favourably on the basis of population size with other science and research-intensive countries such as the US, the UK and Germany.”

To create a sustainable Australian research effort ACOLA urges:

Prepare to explain benefits and risks of technology with as yet unknown opportunities and implications

Convince the community. “Public awareness about synthetic biology is low, and a shared vision will not be attainable if communication channels are not open to all and if the processes for conveying knowledge and building trust are poorly developed.

Get the regulatory balance right. “important to ensure that the level of regulation is proportionate to the risks that are posed to provide a regulatory environment that also enables Australian innovation to flourish.”


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