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Published Online: 19 August 2020

Deployment of Engineered Microbes: Contributions to the Bioeconomy and Considerations for Biosecurity

Publication: Health security
Volume 18, Issue Number 4


Engineering at microscopic scales has an immense effect on the modern bioeconomy. Microbes contribute to such disparate markets as chemical manufacturing, fuel production, crop optimization, and pharmaceutical synthesis, to name a few. Due to new and emerging synthetic biology technologies, and the sophistication and control afforded by them, we are on the brink of deploying engineered microbes to not only enhance traditional applications but also to introduce these microbes to sectors, contexts, and formats not previously attempted. In microbially managed medicine, microbial engineering holds promise for increasing efficacy, improving tissue penetration, and sustaining treatment. In the environment, the most effective areas for deployment are in the management of crops and protection of ecosystems. However, caution is warranted before introducing engineered organisms to new environments where they may proliferate without control and could cause unforeseen effects. We summarize ideas and data that can inform identification and assessment of the risks that these tools present to ensure that realistic hazards are described and unrealistic ones do not hinder advancement. Further, because modes of containment are crucial complements to deployment, we describe the state of the art in microbial biocontainment strategies, current gaps, and how these gaps might be addressed through technological advances in synthetic engineering. Collectively, this work highlights engineered microbes as a foundational and expanding facet of the bioeconomy, projects their utility in upcoming deployments outside the laboratory, and identifies knowns and unknowns that will be necessary considerations and points of focus in this endeavor.

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Published In

cover image Health Security
Health security
Volume 18Issue Number 4July/August 2020
Pages: 278 - 296
PubMed: 32816583


Published online: 19 August 2020
Published in print: July/August 2020
Accepted: 23 April 2020
Revision received: 26 March 2020
Received: 31 January 2020


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    Michael T. Parker
    Michael T. Parker, PhD, is an Assistant Dean, Office of the Dean, Georgetown University, Washington, DC. Aditya M. Kunjapur, PhD, is an Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.
    Aditya M. Kunjapur [email protected]
    Michael T. Parker, PhD, is an Assistant Dean, Office of the Dean, Georgetown University, Washington, DC. Aditya M. Kunjapur, PhD, is an Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.


    Address correspondence to: Aditya M. Kunjapur, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware, 150 Academy St, CLB 215, Newark, DE 19716 [email protected]

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