Finland launches as a Synbio Powerhouse

Finland has launched the Synbio Powerhouse innovation ecosystem as it aims to become a world leader in synthetic biology.

Synthetic biology combines engineering, digitisation, robotics and biology. It involves finding and modifying natural cells to create new cells for new materials, such as fuels or bio-based plastics. For example, household and industrial waste streams, such as carbon dioxide emissions, can be used for the manufacture of renewable materials and fuels. The idea is to create new business and planet saving innovations and enable a new circular economy.

Driven by the state-owned VTT Technical Research Centre, other key players in the Powerhouse include the Finnish innovation fund Sitra, Aalto University and Finnish oil refining company Neste.

Aalto University’s role in the project is to develop artificial intelligence that can significantly accelerate engineering of cells for corporate purposes, taking advantage of Finnish expertise in AI and machine learning. For Neste, synthetic biology offers an enabling technology that could be used for creating cleaner and more efficient production processes for the manufacture of materials, chemicals and fuels.

Other parties in the wider network include Kemira, ST1, Business Finland, Natural Resources Institute Finland, Clic Innovation, the University of Turku, Tampere University of Technology, Finnish Bioindustries FIB, the Chemical Industry Federation of Finland and Fortum.

At the Synbio Powerhouse launch, attended by 120 guests and 12 speakers, Synbio manager Professor Merja Penttilä from VTT and Aalto University presented how synthetic biology can help us to replace fossil fuels in general and fossil-based materials with renewal options. Enzymes can, for example, degrade cellulose to sugars, which can be further converted in living cells to bioethanol, biopolymers, other materials, chemicals, food and medicines.

Synthetic biology can also be combined with arts and design. As an example, Aivan design agency in Helsinki has created a set of headphones from entirely microbial-produced materials.

In terms of global warming, synthetic biology has a lot to offer, considering for example photosynthetic and CO2 research using microorganisms studied at VTT and at the University of Turku.

The Powerhouse also includes the BioGarage, an open access gene technology laboratory and business incubator in Otaniemi. As well as providing access to mentoring and cutting-edge technology, it can be used to host Powerhouse lectures and public events.

During the one-year duration of the project, the network will organise seminars, company-specific development projects, and research and product development projects.

Reverse-Pitch events in February saw companies challenge students to come up with solutions using synthetic biology, while a Biohackathon is planned for Spring 2019.

(via VTT, Synbio)