Bionics (the imitation or abstraction of the “inventions of nature) and, to an even greater extent, synthetic biology, will be as relevant to engineering development and industry as the silicon chip was over the last 50 years. Chemical industries already use so-called “white biotechnology” for new processes, new raw materials, and more sustainable use of resources. Synthetic biology is also used for the development of second-generation biofuels and for harvesting the sun's energy with the help of tailor-made microorganisms or biometrically designed catalysts. The market potential for bionics in medicine, engineering processes, and DNA storage is huge. “Moonshot” projects are already aggressively focusing on diseases and new materials, and a US-led competition is currently underway with the aim of creating a thousand new molecules. This article describes a timeline that starts with current projects and then moves on to code engineering projects and their implications, artificial DNA, signaling molecules, and biological circuitry. Beyond these projects, one of the next frontiers in bionics is the design of synthetic metabolisms that include artificial food chains and foods, and the bioengineering of raw materials; all of which will lead to new insights into biological principles. Bioengineering will be an innovation motor just as digitalization is today. This article discusses pertinent examples of bioengineering, particularly the use of alternative carbon-based biofuels and the techniques and perils of cell modification. Big data, analytics, and massive storage are important factors in this next frontier. Although synthetic biology will be as pervasive and transformative in the next 50 years as digitization and the Internet are today, its applications and impacts are still in nascent stages. This article provides a general taxonomy in which the development of bioengineering is classified in five stages (DNA analysis, bio-circuits, minimal genomes, protocells, xenobiology) from the familiar to the unknown, with implications for safety and security, industrial development, and the development of bioengineering and biotechnology as an interdisciplinary field. Ethical issues and the importance of a public debate about the consequences of bionics and synthetic biology are discussed.
Sachsenmeier, P. (2016). Industry 5.0—The Relevance and Implications of Bionics and Synthetic Biology. Engineering, 2(2), 225–229. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.ENG.2016.02.015