Date:  March 13, 2015




New Report Offers Roadmap to Advance Biological Manufacturing of Chemicals


WASHINGTON – A new report from the National Research Council lays out a 10-year roadmap to accelerate the use of biological synthesis and engineering in chemical manufacturing.  Advances in synthetic biology -- the ability to read, write, and edit the DNA of microorganisms -- have enabled the design and construction of new and more efficient chemical reaction routes within cells, which opens the door for making chemicals that cannot presently be made at commercial scale through traditional chemical manufacturing processes.  Biomanufacturing of chemicals could also help address global challenges related to energy, climate change, agriculture, and environmental sustainability by reducing toxic byproducts, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel consumption in chemical production, the report says.


In 2012, bio-based product markets represented more than 2.2 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, or $353 billion in economic activity, and the markets for bio-based chemicals and industrial biotechnology for chemical manufacturing processes are growing roughly twice as fast as those in biomedicine or agriculture.  Despite the industry’s recent and projected growth, a number of technical and societal challenges must be overcome for biomanufacturing to be competitive with current chemical processes, the report says.  The roadmap identifies the necessary advancements in basic science and engineering that would expand the role of biotechnology in chemical manufacturing.


“We envision a future where biological and chemical approaches are viewed as equally viable options for chemical manufacturing,” said Thomas M. Connelly Jr., former executive vice president and chief innovation officer at DuPont and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  “Making progress in the areas identified in the roadmap will expand both the scale and scope of biomanufacturing of chemicals and play a major role in increasing the contribution of biotechnology to the national economy.” 


Product and capital costs are critical considerations for biomanufacturing.  Carbon in the form of fermentable sugars, derived from grains such as corn, is the primary raw material for the biological production of chemicals and often the largest single input cost -- up to as much as 65 percent -- of the total production cost, while fermentation itself represents the largest capital expense in bioprocessing.  One of the roadmap’s goals is increasing the widespread use of more abundant, more diverse, and less costly sources of carbon, such as from cellulosic biomass, natural gas, or biological methane.  Developments such as continuous fermentation to replace small-volume batch production will help to mitigate some capital costs at manufacturing facilities. 


The roadmap also calls for further research and development to facilitate chemical transformation via biological synthesis and engineering.  Improvements in the ability to rapidly design enzymes and engineer their properties to carry out specific complex chemical transformations would significantly reduce the costs of scaling up biomanufacturing processes.  In addition, the number and range of microorganisms engineered for industrial use will need to increase with the diversity of products manufactured.


Manufacturing chemicals through biology might produce societal benefits while requiring fewer trade-offs between growth and sustainability than traditional chemical manufacturing, the committee said.  Products based on biological sources such as plants, algae, bacteria, yeast, fungi, or other organisms could replace many chemicals now derived from petroleum or other fossil fuels, which are a limited resource.  The specificity of biological synthesis could lead to high-purity products with fewer toxic byproducts and less waste.  The report stresses the need for efforts to inform the public of the nature of industrial biotechnology and of its societal benefits, and to make sure that concerns are communicated effectively between the public and other stakeholders.


In addition to scientific advances, a number of governance and societal factors will influence the industrialization of biology.  Industry norms and standards need to be established in areas such as read/write accuracy for DNA, data and machine technology specifications, and organism performance in terms of production rates and yields.  An updated regulatory regime is also needed to accelerate the safe commercialization of new host organisms, metabolic pathways, and chemical products, and regulations should be coordinated across nations to enable rapid, safe, and global access to new technologies and products.


The committee recommends that relevant federal agencies support the scientific research and foundational technologies required to advance the areas identified in the report.  To ensure that the roadmap goals are pursued and to adapt as needed, government agencies should consider establishing a mechanism to provide ongoing direction for technology development, translation, and commercialization at scale.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and National Science Foundation.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863.  The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  For more information, visit  A committee roster follows.



Lauren Rugani, Media Relations Officer

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Pre-publication copies of Industrialization of Biology: A Roadmap to Accelerate the Advanced Manufacturing of Chemicals are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at  or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


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Division on Earth and Life Studies

Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology


Committee on Industrialization of Biology: A Roadmap to Accelerate Advanced

Manufacturing of Chemicals


Thomas M. Connelly Jr. (chair)

Executive Vice President and

Chief Innovation Officer

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.

Wilmington, Del.


Michelle Chang

Assistant Professor

Chemistry Department

University of California



Lionel Clarke


U.K. Synthetic Biology Leadership Council, and

Team Leader Biodomain Open Innovation

Shell Projects and Technology

Shell Technology Centre

Thornton, United Kingdom


Andrew Ellington

Wilson M. and Kathryn Fraser Research Professor of Biochemistry

Department of Molecular Biosciences

University of Texas



Nathan J. Hillson

Biochemist and Staff Scientist

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory,

Director of Synthetic Biology

Joint Bioenergy Institute, and

Program Lead of Genome Engineering

Joint Genome Institute

Berkeley, Calif.


Richard Johnson

CEO and Founder

Global Helix LLC

Washington, D.C.


Jay D. Keasling*

Hubbard Howe Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biochemical Engineering

Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

University of California



Stephen S. Laderman


Molecular Tools Laboratory

Agilent Laboratories

Santa Clara, Calif.


Pilar Nicole Ossorio

Professor of Law and Bioethics

University of Wisconsin



Kristala L. Jones Prather

Theodore T. Miller Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and


Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center



Reshma Shetty


Ginkgo Bioworks Inc.



Christopher A. Voigt

Associate Professor

Department of Biological Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Huimin Zhao

Centennial Endowed Chair Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and

Professor of Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Bioengineering

University of Illinois





Douglas Friedman

Study Director



*Member, National Academy of Engineering