New field of biology to transform ag industry

New field of biology to transform ag industry

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The emerging field of synthetic biology could transform Australia's agricultural industry and help meet its $100b target, according to CSIRO.

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The emerging field of synthetic biology could transform Australia's agricultural industry and help meet its $100b target, according to CSIRO.

Research published in Nature Plants, co-authored by CSIRO, Australia's national science agency, the University of Queensland and the University of Western Australia, the positive prediction was revealed.

As well as accounting for 3 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product, agriculture and its development are the most powerful tools available globally to help end extreme poverty and feed the world's population.

CSIRO's Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform and Group Leader director at UQ's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Claudia Vickers, said for agriculture to continue to grow amid the complex challenges of food security and climate change, innovations like those offered by the new field of 'synthetic biology' could be key.

"We believe that synthetic biology could transform agriculture and result in a second 'Green Revolution' that would eclipse the first," Dr Vickers said.

Synthetic biology brings together principles from biology and engineering to design and construct new biological entities (such as enzymes, genetic circuits, and cells) or to redesign existing biological systems.

"Synthetic biology's disruptive concepts and technologies can empower plant scientists to re-imagine food and bio-based material production, both quickly and sustainably," Dr Vickers said.

This includes the potential of directed design or evolution of biological systems and organisms using the principles of engineering, to transform crop improvement.

CSIRO applied synthetic biology to produce energy-rich feed for livestock.

Previously, oil needed for livestock feed could only come from oil-rich seeds and fruits of some specialised plants, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, coconut and oil palm.

Using synthetic biology, scientists have been able to switch on the high level oil production in vegetative tissue in stems and leaves.

This technology could potentially treble oil production from plants.

Synthetic biology is being used to create cotton with the properties of synthetics, such as being stretchy, non-creasing, and even waterproof - all while remaining biodegradable and avoiding the use of petrochemicals.

CSIRO Agriculture and Food research director Steve Swain said sythetic biology supplied new tools and technologies.

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