How Synthetic Biology Can Help Fix the Supply Chain Crisis

Supply-chain disruptions are testing companies around the world. Can solutions be found in a fermentation tank? We believe the crisis could accelerate the adoption of synthetic biology to ensure local, sustainable supply of many products from materials to food.

Crises inevitably lead to great changes and opportunities. Today's supply chain crisis may be no different. Since the beginning of COVID-19, companies and countries have struggled to ensure steady supply of key inputs to the normal functioning of our economies. This year, key commodities and other products from Russia and Ukraine have been disrupted amid the war. And the increasing prevalence of natural disasters driven by climate change in recent years has also interfered with supply chains.

Car factories lie dormant because a missing microchip has thwarted production. Pharmaceutical providers rely on overseas supply for active ingredients in many medicines. Food producers that depend on wheat exports from Ukraine, a country known as “the breadbasket of Europe,” are at risk because the spring planting season is in jeopardy. Companies facing challenges like these in a variety of industries may find innovative ways to redesign supply chains by turning to synthetic biology.

Synthetic biology is a revolutionary technology that could make a profound impact on the way a vast array of products are manufactured. In our recent white paper, we explained how the science works and is rapidly expanding into new applications (See The Synthetic Biology Revolution: Investing in the Science of Sustainability). It all happens in a brewery-like environment. Production organism cells (yeast, for instance) are typically grown and fed in a fermenter, and the downstream output (purified protein, for example) is harvested. Beyond the biotech industry, where synthetic biology was first adopted, falling costs are promoting its use to create materials that improve the quality of products such as pet food, watch straps and cement. Now, the retreat of globalization may be a catalyst for broader adoption.