ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology

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2, May 2024

The Wealth in Waste: Australia’s Advantage in Advanced Biomanufacturing and Synthetic Biology

The Prime Minister’s call for a stronger Australian advanced manufacturing sector has been applauded by scientists and start-ups driving innovation through synthetic biologyBut with strong global competition for our best and brightest ideas, the time to act is now.

In his landmark Future Made in Australia’ speech, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signalled a bold shift towards revitalising Australian manufacturing through a focus on sustainable industries, smart jobs and leveraging regional resources. This is music to the ears of the scientists and researchers who are helping to chart Australia’s next manufacturing wave by exploring our immense potential and unique advantages in biomanufacturing and synthetic biology.

Critics have been quick to point to Australia’s past challenges in competing with low-cost manufacturing powerhouses like China, or the massive investment the US has dedicated to decarbonisation and clean energy. But these objections miss the mark. Australia’s strength lies not in direct competition but in harnessing our abundant natural resources and innovative research capabilities to carve out a distinct niche in the global bioeconomy. New sustainable manufacturing processes will generate new jobs and economic opportunities, particularly in our regions. It is also essential to enhancing our sovereign capacity so we can withstand the type of global supply chain shocks we have seen in recent years and add more value to our resources locally.

At the forefront of this revolution is synthetic biology, a field that transforms knowledge and tools to deliver new organisms and solutions to our greatest challenges. A recent CSIRO report highlights a $30 billion opportunity by 2040 that includes Australia being a leading supplier of sustainably manufactured products based on synthetic biology. Biomanufacturing is a central focus for the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology. Work in the Centre focuses on the engineering of microbes to convert agricultural biomass and municipal waste into an array of sustainable products, everything from jet fuel to sustainable dyes. The result is a circular economy where waste serves as the building block for advanced manufacturing, benefiting both the environment and the economy.

The ingredients for success are already in place. Start-ups such as Number 8 Bio and Newera Bio are pioneering solutions to environmental challenges through synthetic biology. Upgrades to the QUT Mackay Renewable Biocommodities Pilot Plant and expansions at Cauldron and the Hunter Biorefinery are building the momentum, creating a strong foundation for a thriving synthetic biology ecosystem. Partnerships in Australia with international companies such as LanzaTech and Ginkgo Bioworks further solidify Australia’s position as a leader in this field.

While some may see competition from the US and Asia, Australia’s unique advantages and the global demand for sustainable solutions create an unprecedented opportunity for collaboration and industry growth. As the key to economic viability lies in locating these  businesses near their source of biomass, biomanufacturing is a perfect match for Australia’s regional areas.

The Prime Minister’s vision is not just possible, it’s essential for securing Australia’s future prosperity and positioning us as a global hub for advanced manufacturing powered by synthetic biology. But the time to act is now. By embracing our strengths and targeting investment in our innovation capabilities, together we can create a future that is made in Australia and is both sustainable and prosperous.

Distinguished Professor Ian Paulsen, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology, Dr Robert Speight, Partner Investigator Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology, Victoria Snelson, Bioplatforms Australia.

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