Brief Thoughts on the 2018 Bio World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology (July 16-19, 2018, Philadelphia, PA)
by Craig Laufer* (Advanced Biofuels USA) After hearing from many speakers at the BIO World Congress on Industrial Biotechnology, one recurring theme from the sessions I attended was the application of digital biology, synthetic biology in silico modeling, machine learning and robotics to the R & D of biofuels/bioproducts production. One of the plenary sessions for example was devoted to the use of CRISPR and other gene editing tools to advance consumer projects. Many speakers described research where massive amounts of DNA sequence from next gen sequencing was driving their capabilities.
While that trend is not new to this year’s Congress what did seem to be newer is the use of massive libraries of synthetically produced DNA sequences. The price of DNA synthesis is dropping very fast (akin to the way the price of sequencing dropped with the introduction of next gen technology) making this a much more viable way of searching sequence space (as opposed to relying on natural diversity and the immediate space surrounding the natural sequences). There are now a number of public and private “biofoundries” that specialize in providing custom synthesized genes and sequence libraries and many companies seem to be taking advantage of these resources.
“Green” or “Bio-based” Premium?
The other theme that I noted was the growing awareness of the possible image-based advantage of bio-based products over equivalent products produced from petrochemicals. In some consumer products, cosmetics being a good example, there may be a significant marketing advantage to producing the product with renewable, bio-based ingredients in place of the petroleum-sourced ingredients.
For some renewable chemicals this premium may offset, to some extent, any price advantage the petrochemical-based product may have.
In a somewhat related note, the concern of investors with environmental, social and governance issues can be expected to benefit companies working on bio-based, renewable products and fuels as many felt that we are approaching a tipping point in the concern of investors over issues of sustainability.
In general I found a lot of enthusiasm at the Congress for a wide variety of projects. Many of them now focusing on higher value bio-based products with biofuels often as the co-product of their processes whether it be algal-based, lignocellulosic or carbon capture of flue gas.
*Dr. Craig Laufer, Professor of Biology at Hood College is a co-founder of Advanced Biofuels USA and serves as the organization’s secretary.