Xenobiology and Biosafety: Challenges and Opportunities

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Markus Schmidt, Lei Pei, Philipe Marliere

Biofaction KG, Austria

By aiming to develop orthogonal biological systems, research on xenobiology attempts to create biological parts, devices, and systems entirely different from the canonical forms in terms of biochemistry, genetic code and metabolism. Since it is early days for xenobiology, most of the research is focused on basic chemical components such as nucleic acids and amino acids. Initial results demonstrating the proof of concept have been achieved recently. Xenobiology offers three main opportunities for science and society: (1) it will help to understand the origins of life, and why biology turned out to have its current form and structure; (2) it will enable the development of more efficient industrial biotechnology by means of enhanced biopolymer engineering and pathogen resistance; and (3) it may be used to develop highly increased biosafety systems featuring an inherently safe genetic firewall. In this talk, the challenges and opportunities of xenobiology will be reviewed. Firstly, the current development in xenobiology will be introduced, focusing on the research of chemical evolution and de novo design genetic materials. Secondly, the challenges and opportunities of xenobiology to the current biosafety regulations will be reviewed. Finally, the plausible roles of xenobiology in making synthetic biology safer will be discussed.