Synthetic biology is gaining recognition as an emerging field in science and technology that characterises the fusion of technologies between the physical, digital and biological spheres as part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. A multi-disciplinary science that combines elements from the scientific, engineering and technological disciplines, synthetic biology involves the use of biotechnology and DNA manipulation to create or modify living things in order to introduce new functions or improve existing ones.
Synthetic biology can make a positive impact in numerous areas such as agriculture, energy and medicine. One example in medicine is research aimed at being able to synthetically programme bacteria for the production of antibiotics or other valuable biochemical compounds, which opens up possibilities for the production of new drugs to combat diseases. Although the process is synthetic, the end-products would be natural.
However, synthetic biology can also be misused by malevolent actors for the purpose of illicit drug production. They could augment existing drug pipelines as well as create new ones for the production and distribution of harmful drugs. Considering, for example, how fentanyl – a synthetic drug – is out of control now in the United States (US), the authorities need to take appropriate steps to address this potential threat.
…Nandhakumar Gunasekaran is Senior Analyst in the Science and Technology Studies Programme (STSP) in the Office of the Executive Deputy Chairman, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Last updated on 11/09/2018