The original inventory of the applications of synthetic biology was compiled from a) a Lexis-Nexis search of US newspapers and newswires on the terms “’synthetic biology’ and applications” for the years 2008-2011; b) a Web of Science search on the term “synthetic biology” for 2008-2011; c) a visual search of project descriptions and websites entered into the iGEM competition; and d) a web search for specific companies and the term synthetic biology via Google.
The material from a) and b) was further analyzed by using the data mining and visualization tool QDA Miner with WordStat to select paragraphs that contain one of several keywords and categories. The default settings were used. Of the 1,236 newspaper and newswire documents, 1,070 were found to match at least one of the words in the keyword analysis. Of the 397 Web of Science abstracts, 319 were found to match the keyword search.
A second data analysis was run on the same data set but included more specific terms related to biofuels. This search resulted in 565 of 1,236 news articles and 17 out of 397 matching abstracts from the Web of Science, respectively. The resulting paragraphs containing the keywords were then manually inspected, investigated, and, if appropriate, placed on the list of products and applications.
The Google web search began with the term “synthetic biology and applications.” However, as research continued, other search terms were tried in order to locate potential cases. Some examples include “white biotechnology,” “industrial biotechnology,” “bioengineered,” and “proprietary microbes.” “White biotechnology” was much more common in Europe than elsewhere.
The current inventory incorporates products and applications from the original inventory only if they were able to be verified. Additional products and applications were added using the Google web search method as stated above.
The term “synthetic biology” itself was frequently used by small startup companies and in the scientific research literature, while some, in particular large companies (e.g. DSM) with histories of using genetic engineering techniques, tended to avoid the term. The terms “metabolic engineering” and “systems biology” were not used directly as search terms, though they appeared frequently in results. For some products and processes, determining whether or not they should be classified as “synthetic biology” was a challenge. This is likely a reflection of the uncertainty surrounding the definition of the term. In this analysis, the following definition was applied as a criterion, to the extent possible, given that details of the actual process used are often proprietary:
“Synthetic biology is a) the design and construction of new biological parts, devices and systems and b) the re-design of existing natural biological systems for useful purposes.” (Syntheticbiology.org)
Many companies are making precursor chemicals, for example bio-crude oil or succinic acid, which can be refined into any number of fuels or other products. These products often cut across categories. In the product matrix, for chemicals that are being marketed or otherwise intended for multiple uses, the intermediate is listed as a single product. Those listed as “Chemicals” are general chemical products; those that are listed for only one or primarily one use are labeled under that category.
The Market Status of each product is intended to reflect a general qualitative appraisal of where each is in a general product pipeline, or the maturity of the technology, rather than an assessment or prediction of commercial viability. The factors considered were the expressed interest of companies in developing the application, whether funding has been committed, and general progress from laboratory demonstration to actual market availability. The general guidelines for the categories are as follows:
On the Market (or close to market):
- Currently available as product, demonstrations have been running and may be scaled up, seeking out markets and customers
Example: Amyris’ Squalane is available and has received several regulatory approvals
On the horizon:
Example: Isoprene is currently being pursued by several joint ventures
Example: Myriant’s Acrylic Acid is under development, but pre-pilot stage
Example: The process of using yeast to produce terpenes has been demonstrated by one of the iGEM teams, but has not progressed beyond a laboratory setting
Select entries in the inventory include a hyperlink to more information about the products and companies, as well as market status and contact details. These descriptions are based on news reports, company documents, and research papers. Links to sources are also included.
Entires and edits received via user accounts will be evaluated using the above criteria prior to being accepted and published.