Domestication Is the Ancient Past and Imminent Future of Biomanufacturing | AIChE

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Domestication Is the Ancient Past and Imminent Future of Biomanufacturing

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Domestication is the most successful bioengineering project humans have ever undertaken. To address the climate emergency, we must deploy the principles of domestication to onboard new microbes that can bring an economic challenge to petroleum supremacy.

No organism is an island; there is no such thing as a successful single-species ecosystem. This is true for wildlife, for human agriculture, and for corporate boardrooms. Diversity is how we survive, and it is an equilibrium that successful ecosystems seek. Every multicellular organism lumbers around with an entourage of bacteria that has a direct and measurable impact on its existence. Every plant cultivates its own crop of roommate microorganisms, encouraging helpers and stamping out freeloaders. And, every organism across every biological kingdom coexists with a staggering number of viruses, most of which do not cause disease.

While organisms specialize and cooperate, their genetic makeups reflect this by changing, adding, and discarding genes over time in response to success or failure at their new tasks. Humans know how to take advantage of this mechanism and have successfully deployed the skills of our planetary cohabitants to great advantage. But when it comes to microbes, we have not fully embraced the lessons or philosophy of such domestication.

This article explores symbiotic relationships and discusses how humans have traditionally leveraged bacterial capabilities for an unending variety of applications. It also discusses a key stumbling block of the synthetic biology approaches of today, and describes how one company is changing the paradigm by harnessing previously undomesticated bacteria for specialized tasks...

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