Building a Bottom-Up Bioeconomy

Source: Issues in Science and Technology

What could the future bioeconomy look like?

Writing with Nick Matthews, Carrie Cizauskas, Emily Aurand, Doug Friedman, Donovan Layton, Mary Maxon, Megan Palmer, and Laurence Stamford, we offer a vision of an industrial ecosystem that better meets society’s changing needs, especially in the context of the pandemic and the problems it has exposed.

New approaches enabled by advances in engineering biology could be used to bolster more equitable and resilient societies and foster sustainable “circular” economies that can reduce waste and pollution, reuse materials, and more readily address climate and other environmental challenges.  Engineering biology can help to accomplish the technical side of this vision, but it requires concerted action by policymakers, researchers, businesses, and communities to achieve its societal and environmental potential.

Enacting this vision for engineering biology will also require a change in the field itself, so that practitioners come to see their role as more than simply engineering microbes, and instead embrace a larger mission of integrating diverse disciplines and knowledge sources while nurturing local capacity. Without deep social engagement, the field risks repeating the mistakes of the past and reinforcing currently inadequate economic and ecological systems. Reimagined in this way, engineering biology could play a critical role in realizing not just a vibrant bioeconomy, but a sustainable, resilient, and equitable one as well.

This paper is in Issues in Science and Technology, published by the US National Academies and ASU. Open access at: