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Focal Point on Synthetic Biology in Japan

Countries around the world are pouring research funding into how to make industrially useful products using microbes and plant cells. Some predict these biological systems will ultimately produce up to 60% of the physical inputs to the global economy. Many will make use of fermentation, an area of traditional Japanese research strength. Japan has delved into this area with bioplastics, and a Japanese start-up is already using fermenting microbes to produce synthetic silk for the outdoor industry. In the next stage, a national initiative called the Smart Cell Project is launching a suite of automated gene-editing tools and synthetic biology research technologies to further accelerate development and commercialization of these new bio-production technologies over the next decade.

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With biotechnology set to drive sustainable new chemistry processes, Japan is banking on its history of fermentation research and a well-funded ‘biofoundry’ to push ideas to commercialization.

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Synthetic biology is being used to genetically engineer flora to produce industrially useful products, all with ON/OFF control.

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Hopes are high that metabolically engineered Lipomyces starkeyi might provide a sustainable source of complex omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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