Synthetic Biology for Science and Engineering/CRDS-FY2008-SP-14
Executive Summary

Synthetic Biology is currently focused on as biological production technology that tries to manufacture energy and chemical industrial materials with microorganisms, etc. It is a recombinant DNA technology that is expected to make a technological contribution to the realization. However, the current recombinant DNA technology uses only one or a small number of gene functions and it is difficult to manufacture a complex of numerous proteins or a complicated chemical compound other than proteins. In order to overcome this point and use this biological production technology in biology-using industries and medical area in an advanced and widespread manner, it is required that the technologies which can fully control complex biological functions, caused by numerous biological activities.

Recent development of life science, elucidation of mechanism of biological functions created by networks of genes and proteins has greatly improved and much knowledge and information have been accumulated. Based on those findings, we are now able to obtain a technology added with a new function which was not originally possessed by the cell by designing a network combined with many genes and proteins and building it into the cell.

Based on the above, this proposal recommends to establish (1) a technology to design a biological function involved in matter production within the biological body from a network of genes and proteins by referring to metabolism function, etc., (2) a technology to actually demonstrate the function by adding the designed biological function to microorganisms, etc., (3) standardize a method to ensure the safety of handling the microorganisms, etc. which are added the new biological function, and (4) promote R&D of establishing a manufacturing method of useful substances which are difficult to manufacture with the existing methods. Through these, we need to design biological functions to produce petroleum components such as gasoline and other useful substances with complicated structures and focus on R&D to create microorganisms and cells added with these functions.

Several noteworthy achievements have begun to appear in “Synthetic Biology for Science and Engineering”, and research investment by the government in this area has been accelerated in Europe and the United States. In particular, the United States has been a step ahead in the R&D of biofuels using this technology. On the other hand, while Japan is lagging slightly behind in the production of biofuels and other useful substances by organisms, the level of research in Japan is either equaling or surpassing that of Europe and the United States at this time because of Japan’s high-level technological capability nurtured in fermentation and food industries as well as achievements in important basic studies including iPS cells. Therefore, by quickly promoting R&D is important especially in the areas, such as genetic engineering, protein engineering, systems biology, synthetic biology and MEMS technology in Japan as well.

The research to design and establish biological functions is still in the early stage around the world. Because of that, the risk is high in many aspects and it is hard to push the R&D forward only by private companies. As is the case with a recombinant DNA technology, it is necessary to give due consideration to bioethics and social acceptability. It is important that the government take the initiative to promote and work to define “safe technologies” to use biological functions.