The global bioeconomy is about to take off as manufacturers choose biology as the method of choice to efficiently produce long-lasting, high-performance products. Synthetic biology is at the forefront of this $ 4 trillion gold rush.

Here’s a little secret: the world is increasingly relying on bioengineering to make useful products that are more durable and perform better than those that can be extracted from the environment.

Most of us don’t realize that the objects of our daily lives—the food we eat, the the fashions we wear, the drugs we depend on, and much more, rely on our ability to not just extract products from the earth, but rather to harness biology itself to make useful things.

Synthetic biology may take some credit for that. Although not many people know, synthetic biology is a field dedicated to making biology easier to conceive. It applies advances in computation, automation and biology to biofabrication solutions that are faster, cheaper and better than conventional methods.

Enabling technologies are having an exponential impact

Like the internet, synthetic biology is a kind of enabling technology that is driving drastic changes in various industries. But unlike the Internet, instead of just shifting ones and zeros, biology shifts atoms, the very substance of matter. The Internet is the engine of commerce and communications. And now synthetic biology is about to lead the physical world.

As companies turn to biology for cheaper, more sustainable ways to make higher quality products, the biofabrication gold rush will begin and synthetic biology will sell the picks and shovels.

Next week I’m running the Built with biology Top of the bioeconomy nearly 1,000 innovators, investors and policymakers to discuss how organic innovations can shape a more resilient, sustainable and prosperous economy for all. This will include a discussion on The Endless Frontier Law, a $ 100 billion bipartisan and bicameral bill just released by Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA), Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer (J-NY), Senator Todd Young (R-IN), and Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI). Its objective: to strategically advance scientific and technological R&D, in particular synthetic biology, to revitalize the post-COVID economy.

To get a feel for how synthetic biology fits into all of this, let’s take a look at how the internet and a few other enabling technologies grew, and compare them to the bioeconomy.

# 1: The PC industry

The personal computer industry has grown considerably since its introduction in the late 1970s. The first personal computer, the MITS Altair 8080, came out in 1975 with only a few thousand sales. It was a humble start to something that would change our world forever. The PC industry really started to take off in the late 90s, when $ 7.4 billion was invested between 1985 and 1995. The PC industry peaked in 2011-2012 with an annual market of 300 billions of dollars. Today, the PC is an essential tool found in most homes and offices, with more than 350 million units sold each year.

# 2 Internet

In the early 90s, another industry started to take off: the Internet industry. Between 1995 and 2005, around $ 54 billion was invested in dot-coms. In 2010, ITF estimated the annual global economic benefits of the commercial Internet to be $ 1.5 trillion in 2010. Today, four companies in the dot-com era are each worth more than $ 1,000 billion: Apple , Amazon, Microsoft and Google.

GOOGL
parent company Alphabet.

# 3 The mobile industry

If someone with big hair in the ’90s told you that you’d soon have a phone in your pocket with as much power as a supercomputer, you’d probably think they’re crazy. The mobile industry invest 23% of income in R&D, around $ 100 billion each year. This is even more than the pharmaceutical industry (14%) but not as much as biotechnology (27%). This helped create the mobile apps market – now the fastest growing segment of the industry – which alone is expected to reach nearly $ 200 billion in 2020. Global smartphone sales revenue amounted to nearly $ 500 billion in 2017.

How do synthetic biology and bioeconomics compare?

The synthetic biology industry itself is still young, with $ 18 billion invested from 2010-2019, and market estimates anywhere from $ 5 billion at $ 15 billion today. But like the Internet, the real value to society lies in all the other parts of the economy that it impacts. So how can we quantify the impact of synthetic biology – and more generally of biological innovation – on the economy as a whole?

In the United States, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine addressed this issue in its January 2020 report, Safeguarding the bioeconomy. He estimated that in the United States alone, the bioeconomy is about $ 1 trillion, with a potential size of about $ 1.4 trillion based on the part of the economy that could be biobased using existing technology. (for example, plastics that could be made through a bio-based process today). This would represent about 7.4% of the entire GDP of the United States.

A recent McKinsey study led by Michael Chui also tries to answer this question from a holistic perspective. He looked at the impact of around 400 organic innovation applications underway today. Like the National Academies report, Chui’s team was not talking about wacky ideas, but rather scientifically feasible projects now using today’s technology. Chui concluded that these 400 biological applications alone could have a direct global impact of up to $ 4 trillion per year over the next 10 to 20 years.

These figures are quite remarkable, far greater than the economic impact of the Internet.

The real value of organic innovation

As an enabling technology, synthetic biology clearly has the potential to have a disproportionate impact on the global economy, from biochemicals to biomedicals to agriculture. If sectors like the Internet, the PC industry and the mobile industry are any guide, public and private investments in the synthetic biology industry will yield extraordinary returns on investment from an economic and societal perspective.

The McKinsey report also indicates that biology could eventually produce 60% of the physical inputs of the world economy and solve 45% of the diseases in the world. These impacts on the environment and the well-being of all the peoples of the world are truly invaluable. For many in the synthetic biology community, who share a passion for using synthetic biology to build a better, more sustainable universe, this is the real goal.

Even if the high projections on synthetic biology and the upcoming bioeconomy turn out to be only partially true, the opportunities for innovators, investors and the public remain spectacularly large.

Follow me on Twitter at @johncumbers and @synbiobeta. Subscribe to my weekly synthetic biology newsletters. thank’s for Stephanie Michelsen and Kevin Costa for additional research and reports in this article. I am the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies I write about are sponsors of the SynBioBeta Conference and weekly summary. Here is the complete list of SynBioBeta sponsors.

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