According to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), several trends in science and technology are powering human understanding of biological processes and enabling us to engineer them for myriad uses.
MGI says that innovations cover a wide range of interdisciplinary fields in four key arenas: biomolecules, biosystems, biomachine interfaces, and biocomputing. Major breakthroughs in each are reinforcing one another.
Of the four, the field of biomolecules is developing the fastest judging by the number of active startups and amount of funding.
Biosystems, which is closely related to biomolecules, is the second-most-active area. Biomachine interfaces, or connecting nervous systems to machines, are at a relatively early stage, but activity is increasing among established technology companies, academic research labs, and emerging startups.55
Biocomputing is arguably the least developed of the four key arenas.
What are biomolecules?
This area groups biological sciences that are collectively known as omics and molecular technologies. Omics consist primarily of mapping and measuring various molecules and pathways within cells. Molecular technologies engineer such molecules and pathways. Of all the omics, genomics is the most technologically advanced; applications that measure and map genes and then engineer them are in full development and use. However, the genome is by no means the entire story; other omics—particularly epigenomics—are needed to understand phenotypes (characteristics that manifest) by studying a number
of steps such as what genes are expressed, at what level, and what environmental factors have an influence. While the genome is largely static, other omics are dynamic and vary across time and in different environments.
Work on these other omics is increasing. In particular, analysis and engineering of RNA (transcriptomics) and proteins (proteomics) are accelerating. The science behind each omic varies in maturity, and accordingly, the amount of funding and the volume of publications in each area vary widely.
The McKinsey Global Institute has published a tome, “The Bio Revolution” that attempts to quantify the risks and opportunities encumpassing the entire field of synthetic biology.