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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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.
Focal Point Feature
A genome-editing technique called type I-D (TiD) is based on a lesser-known CRISPR-Cas system and will help engineer the cells that drive the biology-based production of raw materials in Japan.
Synthetic biology is being used to genetically engineer flora to produce industrially useful products, all with ON/OFF control.
A new technique uses virus-borne enzymes to control a methylation-based ON/OFF switch for plant genes.
Recombinant bacteria fermenting in bioreactors are producing useful quantities of catechol, a substance used in the production of fragrance chemicals and pharmaceuticals.
Hopes are high that metabolically engineered Lipomyces starkeyi might provide a sustainable source of complex omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Lean and smart data tools are key to building a robust economy based on products created by engineered plants and microbes.
Optimized fermentation of engineered microbes may be the solution to mass producing a vitamin-like antioxidant with anti-aging properties.