Deep Biotech: disruptive innovation for global sustainability

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Deep Biotech applies the power of biotechnology to address some of humanity's biggest challenges. The life sciences industry has ushered in many ground-breaking innovations in health. In response to the challenge of global warming the same technologies that delivered life-saving therapeutics are being harnessed to disrupt traditional industries and reduce environmental damage.

In this blog, Maddie Cass, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Executive at the BIA, reports on the expansion of the BIA’s activities to serve at the front line of this transformation.

What is Deep Biotech?

The BIA has coined a new term ‘Deep Biotech’ to describe the application of modern biotechnologies to humanity's most profound challenges beyond health, including climate change, pollution and food security. Our growing ability to precisely edit DNA and engineer biology to do new things provides us with an entirely new toolkit to solve problems, just as chemistry did in the 19th Century and physics did in the 20th Century.

As with other instances of deep tech, it is a long-term investment requiring complex scientific research and advanced engineering to reach revolutionary breakthroughs that empower multiple industries to address urgent issues.

This biological innovation is propelling us into what is often referred to as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the biorevolution. Underpinning this revolution is the continued development of modern, disruptive biotechnologies such as engineering biology, and their purposeful application. Deep Biotech has the potential to unleash the biorevolution and realise UK and global ambitions to create a sustainable bioeconomy. The BIA’s growing Deep Biotech membership is part of that revolution.

Organisations and governments turn to biotech to help them address sustainability challenges

Globally, the impacts of climate change are clear and people, organisations and governments around the world understand the need to make changes to safeguard our future. Innovative biotechnology is seen as a key tool to help us tackle climate change and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Multinational companies like Lego are turning to biobased solutions to help green their supply chains.

The UK Government is aware of the scientific and engineering innovations needed to counteract the impacts of global warming. Recent government activity and increased interest in the field of engineering biology, identified as a critical technology, will underpin the transformation towards a more sustainable future.

The Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT) recently sought input to a consultation from innovators across business and academic communities to shape coherent UK policy that will support the engineering biology ecosystem, from foundational research through to consumer facing products. The BIA submitted a substantial response to the consultation, building on the already-close relationship we have with DSIT to further the uptake of engineering biology and adoption of Deep Biotech solutions.

Innovative solutions are disrupting the market

UK SMEs are charting the way forward by introducing disruptive biotechnologies to the market. These innovative technologies include:

  • Engineered microbes capable of producing enzymes that efficiently and sustainably break down non-biodegradable materials like plastics. This could revolutionise traditional recycling by transforming plastic waste into a valuable source of new materials, thus driving the circular bioeconomy.
  • Precision breeding, made possible through gene editing, enhances crops with traits such as pest resistance, drought tolerance, and enhanced nutritional content. The recent Genetic Technology Act is a first step towards securing food security with the potential to minimise agriculture's environmental footprint.
  • Cellular agriculture is the practice of cultivating meat, seafood, milk and eggs from cells, removing the environmental burdens of industrial-scale farming. It heralds a more sustainable and ethical future for food production.
  • Biofuels are helping hard-to-decarbonise industries like aviation and shipping meet Net Zero targets. Engineering biology is delivering the next generation of biofuels through genetically engineered crops, or new efficient pathways to transform biowaste into feedstock.
  • Novel textiles and materials can ease our reliance on fossil fuels to make clothing and plastics. Bacteria, fungi and food waste are all being developed as sources to create new fabrics and materials that will challenge the existing industries.
  • Bioremediation restores contaminated environments by harnessing the power of microbes to degrade and detoxify pollutants. These organisms are engineered to breakdown or stabilise contaminants safely, allowing us to clean up polluted natural spaces, restore fertile farmland, and develop abandoned brownfield sites.

BIA will influence, connect, and save for Deep Biotech

Leveraging our extensive experience in supporting the UK's health biotech sector, the BIA is committed to assisting Deep Biotech companies which are at the forefront of applying disruptive biotechnologies beyond healthcare. Working in close consultation with our growing Deep Biotech membership, we are actively developing our activities in this space to empower companies working to tackling some of our world’s most challenging problems, enabling them to start, grow and deliver world-changing innovation in the UK.

We will be publishing a detailed report early next year exploring and characterising this exciting and growing community of companies, and rolling out a range of activities throughout 2024 to support and represent them.

If you are interested to learn more about the BIA’s work in this space, or if you are a member interested in joining our Deep Biotech group, please contact Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Linda Bedenik.


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