The report "White biotechnology and synthetic biology" is part of the reflections of the Biotechnology Commission of the French Academy of Technologies. It follows an opinion issued in 2012 which recommended a number of measures to promote the development of a new bio-economy based on the use of renewable carbon.
Synthetic biology is constantly appearing on the lists of so-called "future" technologies, in the very broad field of applications of living organisms. The Académie des technologies, several members of which are or have been involved in its development, sheds light on the questions raised by the emergence of synthetic biology in the field of industrial applications - the so-called "white biotechnology" sector.
As a forerunner in industrial biotechnologies, France, now the world's third largest country in this field, remains active: it benefits from excellent fundamental research teams in synthetic biology and has seen the birth of a dozen or so startups over the last ten years, often with government support.
As for the regulatory framework, it is more questionable because, on this subject, Europe has set an example and has put together a complex and rather uncertain body of regulations, which weakens the position of manufacturers compared to other countries with legislation more conducive to the development of this new industry, such as the United States.
However, the most worrying factor remains the industrial environment, which is not particularly favourable to the development of this type of activity: the disappearance of the leader in the chemical industry, Rhône-Poulenc, the refocusing of Sanofi on its pharmaceutical activities, and the complete withdrawal of Lafarge during the 1990s, marked a turning point in the development of white biotechnology, which is now conducted by medium-sized, family-owned or cooperative companies whose research and investment activities in these sectors, which are considered relatively risky, remain limited. The United States and China, for their part, are very aggressively developing industrial biotechnology, with very substantial human and financial resources...
After reviewing the history of the development of industrial biotechnologies, the report of the Académie des technologies takes stock of recent scientific and methodological developments and provides an overview of the bio-economy in France and abroad. It addresses the regulatory, ethical and industrial environmental issues that underlie any success in this field. In its conclusion, it explores some possible avenues and makes recommendations for the future of this sector in France.
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