ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology


26, Sep 2023

Navigating the frontier of synthetic biology

Synthetic biology may be a relatively new term in the popular lexicon but over the past few decades it has produced a plethora of research.

This explosion of knowledge has changed the applications and focus over time. But it has also made it more difficult to agree on one fundamental question: What actually is synthetic biology and what does it encompass?



Curious to answer such questions, Australian researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology have used natural language processing to review research developments across a 20-year timespan.

They also explored the impact of policy, finding that countries that have undertaken policy interventions lead the world in the breadth and impact of synthetic biology research.


“Considering the sheer volume of synthetic biology publications, it is impossible to read everything,” says lead author Felix Meier. “Therefore, we explored the published literature using recent advancements in natural language processing to comprehensively map topics in synthetic biology from over 20,000 research papers.

“It shows what the hottest topics are in synthetic biology and where in the world this research is being undertaken, and how this has changed over 20 years.”

The work maps the connections between the biggest names in synthetic biology research and provides interactive graphs to explore the relationships in detail.

Co-author Thom Dixon says it’s fascinating to see that the discipline is still very much in development “with no agreed definition for synthetic biology in existence”.

“It is no surprise to us that synthetic biology is considered such a vital technology by the US and China and we would anticipate that investment in synthetic biology at a basic, applied and commercial level will continue to grow globally year-on-year.”

Read the full paper: ACS Synthetic Biology