Commodity and speciality chemicals as well as new materials can be developed using biological methods that take advantage of the unique properties of living systems.

Industrialized biotechnology offers opportunities for adaptation and innovation in the commercial production of sustainable chemistries as well as the development of new functional materials.

In this context, the synthesis of new chemical products requires the coordination with gene expression and the engineering of molecules. Biologically produced chemicals are the result of a series of enzyme-catalysed reactions, with each enzyme encoded by at least one gene. These complex pathways create new challenges which require systems-oriented solutions.

Biological engineering takes advantage of the tools of recombinant DNA technology while also applying systems and network analyses to the challenge of engineering more productive host organisms. These principles can be applied to generate highly efficient and productive fermentation processes for industrial chemical production.

In industrial biology, fast computer processing, massive data handling capacity, micro-scaled iterative testing facilities, and artificial intelligence (AI) facilitates the translation of data derived from high-throughput screening methods into more robust and predictive design techniques. The convergence of life sciences with chemistry, chemical engineering, computer science, and other disciplines continues to increase the potential for industrialization of the biological sciences within industrial chemical manufacturing contexts.

Future growth in this field will enable the use of biology to produce high-value chemical products that cannot be produced at high purity and high yield through traditional chemical synthesis. 

The future of industrial biology includes a large number of high-volume chemicals, where biology represents a better synthetic pathway, which will eventually be both cheaper and greener than conventional, petroleum-based chemical synthesis. However, the development of these new advanced processes require commitment, time and investment.

Synthetic biology is a discipline which is increasingly able to deliver greater speed, cost-effectiveness and predictability to the design of biological systems. The field applies engineering principles to reduce genetics into DNA “parts” and understand how they can be combined to build desired functions in living cells.

For commodity chemicals, targets need to add economic value to the starting carbon source (such as glucose or cellulose) and can include pre-existing high-volume chemicals, biologically sourced precursors that may be converted to the desired product through simple chemical transformations, or new structures.

Speciality or fine chemicals yield more flexibility in approach and cost of manufacture, based on their higher value. For many complex natural products, there may be no existing chemical method for their commercial manufacture. As such, a biological route can provide new access to the target or a semi-synthetic intermediate. The continued development of biotechnology related to chemical synthesis also enables new routes to discovery when combined with the more mature area of chemical synthesis.

High-value chemicals can benefit from the specificity of biological synthesis, leading to high-purity products, produced at high yield via pathways that minimise by-product formation.

Large-volume chemicals must be produced cost efficiently, taking advantage of cheap, abundant carbon sources, while minimising the capital costs for the production facilities.

Genetic engineering encompasses the cutting and joining of recombinant DNA and its incorporation into an organism in order to change its characteristics, for example to make a new product or enhance its production. Genetic engineering is made up of a variety of technologies.

Protein engineering seeks to modify the properties of an individual protein, for example to improve its stability or catalyse a new reaction.

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