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Engineering Biology

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2023

Since its creation, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology has been working to cement the UK as a science superpower by creating the most innovative economy in the world. At the centre of this mission are five critical technologies that will deliver prosperity and security for the UK and deliver benefits to global society: engineering biology, quantum technologies, artificial intelligence, semiconductors and future telecommunications.

We are today publishing the “National Vision for Engineering Biology”, which outlines how engineering, or synthetic, biology will contribute to the UK’s growth, security, resilience and preparedness.

This vision responds to the Government’s recent call for evidence on engineering biology. It reflects what we heard about the UK’s strengths, challenges and opportunities. It defines the Government’s collective ambition for engineering biology, and sets the directions in which Government investment, policy and regulatory reform will deliver through the strands of the science and technology framework.

The Government define engineering biology as the design, scaling and commercialisation of biology-derived products and services that can create whole new categories of product or produce existing products more sustainably. It draws on the tools of synthetic biology to create the next wave of innovation in the bioeconomy. In addition to its economic benefits, engineering biology supports policy objectives across Government, including contributing to improvements in health, food security, environmental protection and the transition to a lower-carbon economy. This is a pivotal moment for engineering biology. Global leading nations are ramping up efforts to grow their sovereign bioeconomy capabilities and capture the economic benefits. The US and China have made ambitious statements of intent, and our international peers are investing significant sums to carve out strategic positions in the emerging global bioeconomy. At the same time, there is increasing recognition that countries need to apply engineering biology predictably, safely and responsibly to capture its full economic and societal potential for their populations. Engineering biology is a dual-use technology, and all Governments will need to adopt sensible, proportionate precautions.

The Government’s vision is for the UK to have a broad, rich engineering biology ecosystem that can safely develop and commercialise the many opportunities to come from the technology and the underlying science. We aim to gain as much economic value, security, resilience and preparedness as possible from our hard-won strengths and ensure that these create real benefits for the public. We will also move further and faster to put the UK right at the very forefront of global efforts to drive responsible and trustworthy innovation across the world. By addressing the social and ethical questions that may be raised by certain applications, we will ensure that we earn the trust of the public and consumers as we unlock the opportunities of this technology. At the same time, there is increasing recognition that countries need to apply engineering biology predictably, safely and responsibly, gripping this technology’s risks in order to capture its full economic and societal potential for their populations.

The Government will focus on six priorities to achieve this vision: world-leading research and development; infrastructure; talent and skills; regulations and standards; adoption by the broader economy; and responsible and trustworthy innovation. For each of these areas, DSIT has already started convening partners across Government and our research funding councils to understand the challenges and opportunities and to identify the support that the Government should provide.

Following publication of this vision, the Government will develop a clear plan of action for delivering the vision. Copies of the “National Vision for Engineering Biology” and the technical annex will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.