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Number of Synthetic Biology Firms Tripled over Last Four Years

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Synthetic biology has been a fast-growing field over the past four years, with more than three times as many companies operating in this area in 2013 as there were in 2009, according to analysis from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The center, which has just updated a map of synthetic biology efforts that it created four years ago, found that the number of synthetic biology companies around the globe have increased from 61 to 192 during that period.

That surge brought the number of businesses that are using synthetic biology closer to the number of universities that are involved in this area, a group that grew from 127 in 2009 to a current total of 204. The number of research institutes working in the synthetic biology sphere also doubled, rising from 28 to 57 over the same period.

"Part of this new activity has been driven by continuing government investments in the science," said David Rejeski, director of the Wilson Center's Science and Technology Innovation Program and director of its Synthetic Biology Project, in a statement accompanying the analysis.

"Another important factor has been the rapidly declining costs of gene sequencing, which has supported more effective approaches to engineering biological systems," he added.

A little more than 45 of the companies in the synthetic biology field are working in medicine, around 30 are involved in specialty areas and fine chemicals, 25 firms are working in the fuel/additive fields, and between 20 and 25 are working in the plastics, polymers, and rubber fields.

Other areas in which firms are employing synthetic biology include plant feedstocks for microbe consumption; nutrients; waste management and pathogen detection; dispersants for use in oil spill cleanup; mining; aquaculture, and other areas.

In the US, there are more companies involved in synthetic biology (131) than universities (119), and there are 29 research institutions, 15 government labs, four military labs, and seven community labs all working in this sphere, according to the Wilson Center. In Europe, there are 43 firms involved in synthetic biology, while there are 59 universities and 22 research institutes also engaged in this field.

The Wilson Center also found that it is not the only institute that is looking into the growth in synthetic biology. Over the last four years the number of policy centers working on issues related to this burgeoning field rose from two to 17, it said.