John Dordick, Howard P. Isermann Professor of Chemical and Biology Engineering and director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, talked about a specific area in which advanced manufacturing can change the world: biomanufacturing. Success in biomanufacturing means learning from and improving on the incredible capabilities already found in nature. The biosphere can create everything from the small molecules required for the functioning of cells to single organisms (the fungal mycelia) more than a mile across. “Nature does a remarkable job of biomanufacturing,” Dordick said.
A 787 jet and a cell have about the same number of parts, according to Dordick, but biologists still have vast gaps in their knowledge of how cells operate. Nevertheless, people have been learning how to adapt biological processes to human purposes since our distant ancestors began fermenting liquids and drinking them. Biological processes are used to produce fructose, antibiotics, biofuels, industrial chemicals such as acrylamide and isoprenes, and many other products. Furthermore, the discipline known as synthetic biology, through essentially a modular plug-and-play technology analogous to apps for a mobile phone, offers the hope of creating biological factories for a virtually unlimited number of products.
Dordick discussed three opportunities in particular: bionanotechnology, safe biopharmaceuticals, and personalized medicine.
Bionanotechnology brings together nanotechnology, biotechnology, robotic technologies, microscale systems, and nanoscale systems to form hybrid systems with very specific functions. It offers the hope of developing nanoscale science and engineering to produce biomolecular and chemical building blocks and assembling them in a
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