White biotechnology is one of the most innovative life sciences today, combining technology with the natural functions of organisms. It has applications in nearly every industry, especially as we seek to reduce the environmental impacts of food, medicine, consumer goods, and other types of products. Here are some of the most exciting recent developments in white biotech. 

What is White Biotechnology? 

Biotechnology uses metabolic processes rather than chemical or mechanical processes to accomplish various ends. Because there are so many ways biotech can be used, a color-code identifies and defines the various fields. Here we discuss industrial, or “white”, biotechnology, which uses living cells to  produce and process chemicals, materials, and energy.

The goal of white biotechnology is to exploit natural biological processes for more efficient manufacture of goods. By manipulating cells, or components of cells, as biological tools, people will be able to make medicines, food, products, and fuel. They’ll be able to treat waste and restore damaged ecosystems, and meet just about any other imaginable future need. 

The global white biotech market was valued at USD 641.68 billion in 2020, and it is projected to see a CAGR of 15.14% between 202 and 2026. This increase will be driven by growing consumer consciousness around issues of sustainability and efficient productivity. Also, the Covid crisis provided white biotech with a huge stimulus in areas of vaccine and test kit development and deployment, effective antibody testing, repurposing of existing drugs, and the development of new ones.

Benefits of White Biotechnology

There are significant potential benefits in developing this technology. Here are some of the most important:

  • It creates industrial processes which are less destructive to the environment, due to reduced carbon emissions and smaller demand for energy, water and fossil fuels.
  • It reduces manufacturing costs. Capital investment may be reduced by as much as 50%.
  • Microbial and enzymatic based industries generate less waste than traditional manufacturing methods
  • Microbes thrive on waste from agriculture, forestry, and other sources, rather than requiring new biomass

Some Amazing Frontiers in White Biotech

Here are some of the most exciting recent developments in white biotech: 

  • eDNA. DNA is everywhere. Studying environmental DNA (eDNA) sheds light on entire communities, rather than on single organisms. For example, by sampling and sourcing all the DNA on a plant, scientists can identify the varieties of life forms interacting with each other and with that plant. Studying eDNA can help locate new, rare and invasive species. 
    • Another spin on eDNA involves urban transport systems. Recent research in 60 cities around the world shows that cities, too, have unique microbiomes. By examining the DNA on a shoe, scientists can tell what city that shoe comes from. Scanning DNA in urban transport systems could help identify pathogens and monitor them for drug-resistance. The urban microbiome research has also resulted in the first worldwide catalog of urban microbial organisms, which is public and searchable. 
    • By sampling urban wastewater for Coronavirus, cities are able to work with the CDC to detect changes in the number of people carrying the virus. This data is highly predictive of the amount of virus circulating in the population, and is helping epidemiologists track outbreak data.
  • Discovery of novel organisms. Labs rely heavily on a few organisms, particularly E. Coli and various yeasts. There’s a huge potential benefit in discovering new organisms. Finding, testing, screening and cataloging them Is a huge job, out of the reach of many laboratories. Dr. Kevin Solomon, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at Purdue University, thinks there is room for startups in this field.
    • For example, a bacteria called Taq, (Thermus aquaticus) is a thermophilic organism discovered in 1969. Because it is stable at high temperatures, Taq speeded up the PCR process and innovated rapid Covid testing. Taq is also used in diagnosing hereditary diseases, forensic science, and paternity testing.
    • In 2020, the Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science & Technology retrieved and revived dormant microbes deposited 100 mil yrs ago on the sea bed. Despite millenia in an environment with almost no oxygen or food, the organisms revived and multiplied in the lab. Scientists are now beginning to explore a variety of their metabolic functions.
  • Synthetic DNA. Synthetic or artificial DNA is designed in the lab and made to order. Any research involving molecular biology depends on acquiring precise strands of DNA. Finding, screening, and reproducing that DNA from natural sources is labor-intensive and time-consuming, so it’s extremely expensive. These factors in turn create a bottleneck that hinders research and development. Short strands of synthetic DNA are available now: the quest is to improve the technology. The ability to make the desired segments of DNA in the lab will speed up research, save money, and allow for more controlled experiments and greater precision in results. 
    • In addition to its usefulness in the laboratory, the potential of DNA for data storage appears unlimited. DNA lasts forever and can compress a vast amount of information. The implications for information technology, data storage, bar coding, security, and computing are virtually unlimited.

At grapefrute, we are experts in recruitment for life sciences, and are excited about the potential for these technologies to build a better future. If you need the team and the talent to explore these exciting new frontiers, contact us today.

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