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Technical Assessment: Synthetic Biology

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Technical Report

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Office of Technical Intelligence, Office of the ASD for R and E Washington United States

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Synthetic biology is an emerging field in which scientists modify or engineer DNA to improve their ability to understand, predict, design, and build biological systems. For more than a century, scientists have been applying knowledge of biology to agriculture, medicine, and some industrial systems, but advances over the past 20 years have enabled scientists to pursue research programs and to modify organisms in substantially more complex and targeted ways. These developments spawned the synthetic biology field. Thus, it is not a new field, but it is new in its approach holistic engineering of biology and its promise. Bibliometric analyses of the synthetic biology field show a rapid rise in publications since the late 1990s. There have been more than 160 private synthetic biology companies operating since 2009 which have drawn more than 5.4 billion in private investment, and engineered organisms have spawned products worth more than 350 billion per year to the U.S. economy. Beyond economic impact, research has already demonstrated the potential for this field to have major effects on commodity and specialty materials, sensing, human performance, medical, and biological and chemical weapons threats and defense, all of which are of substantial importance to the U.S. Department of Defense DoD.

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