The impact of synthetic biology for future agriculture and nutrition

Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2020 Feb;61:102-109. doi: 10.1016/j.copbio.2019.10.004. Epub 2019 Dec 5.


Global food production needs to be increased by 70% to meet demands by 2050. Current agricultural practices cannot cope with this pace and furthermore are not ecologically sustainable. Innovative solutions are required to increase productivity and nutritional quality. The interdisciplinary field of synthetic biology implements engineering principles into biological systems and currently revolutionizes fundamental and applied research. We review the diverse spectrum of synthetic biology applications that started impacting plant growth and quality. We focus on latest advances for synthetic carbon-conserving pathways in vitro and in planta to improve crop yield. We highlight strategies improving plant nutrient usage and simultaneously reduce fertilizer demands, exemplified with the engineering of nitrogen fixation in crops or of synthetic plant-microbiota systems. Finally, we address engineering approaches to increase crop nutritional value as well as the use of photoautotrophic organisms as autonomous factories for the production of biopharmaceuticals and other compounds of commercial interest.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Crops, Agricultural
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Nutritional Status
  • Synthetic Biology*