Biological standards for the Knowledge-Based BioEconomy: What is at stake

N Biotechnol. 2018 Jan 25;40(Pt A):170-180. doi: 10.1016/j.nbt.2017.05.001. Epub 2017 May 4.


The contribution of life sciences to the Knowledge-Based Bioeconomy (KBBE) asks for the transition of contemporary, gene-based biotechnology from being a trial-and-error endeavour to becoming an authentic branch of engineering. One requisite to this end is the need for standards to measure and represent accurately biological functions, along with languages for data description and exchange. However, the inherent complexity of biological systems and the lack of quantitative tradition in the field have largely curbed this enterprise. Fortunately, the onset of systems and synthetic biology has emphasized the need for standards not only to manage omics data, but also to increase reproducibility and provide the means of engineering living systems in earnest. Some domains of biotechnology can be easily standardized (e.g. physical composition of DNA sequences, tools for genome editing, languages to encode workflows), while others might be standardized with some dedicated research (e.g. biological metrology, operative systems for bio-programming cells) and finally others will require a considerable effort, e.g. defining the rules that allow functional composition of biological activities. Despite difficulties, these are worthy attempts, as the history of technology shows that those who set/adopt standards gain a competitive advantage over those who do not.

Keywords: Bioengineering; Fourth Industrial revolutionFourth industrial revolution; KBBE; Orthogonalization; PoPs; Retroactivity; SBOL; Standards; Synthetic biology; iGEM.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biotechnology / economics*
  • Economic Development*
  • Genetic Engineering / standards
  • Knowledge Bases*
  • Synthetic Biology