Seizing the Future: Unleashing
the Potential of Biotechnology
The application of biotechnology extends well beyond the agricultural and food product domains, to medicine and health, environment, energy, and industry. Biotechnology melds the words “biology” and “technology,” and is defined as the use of biological processes and organisms to improve the lives of human beings. The range of applications is vast — by 2030, biotechnology is expected to grow to approximately $ 1 trillion, which is 2.7% of the gross value added in the OECD(*1) countries. On the other hand, with the world population forecast to reach 10 billion around the year 2050, securing sufficient supplies of food, water, and energy become a serious concern. Expectations for the potential of biotechnology to contribute to resolving global-scale issues such as poverty, hunger, and climate change are rising.
*1：Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
In recent years, biotechnology has advanced at a frenetic pace, sparking a quantum leap in innovations in the field. The evolution of DNA sequencing technology has made possible the collection of biological data such as human genome information and, driven by state-of-the-art information processing technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), organism big data analysis has accelerated the illumination and modification of biological functions, enabling the design of increasingly advanced, efficient biofunctions. Evolution into the development of cell fusion and genetic modification technologies has led to the achievement of unprecedented medical treatment and manufacturing methods, with innovations propelled by biotechnology spreading across the globe.
Since the OECD’s 2009 release of a white paper entitled, “The Bioeconomy to 2030: Designing a Policy Agenda,” which outlined organization’s thinking regarding resolving global-scale issues while achieving economic development using biological resources and biotechnology, a host of strategies toward the realization of a bioeconomy have been proposed, with efforts being led by Europe and the US. Bioeconomy represents the integration of biotechnology and sustainable circular economic activity. In the EU’s bioeconomy, over 18 million employees and € 2 trillion plus revenue are brought. By strengthening the interaction between policy and innovation in bioeconomy, it would be expected to generate approximately 800,000 jobs-year and € 45 billion of value added by 2025. With accelerating their efforts to shift to bio-based products, materials and fuels, it would be saved up to 2.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalents per year by 2030. Furthermore, these approaches to a low-carbon society are expanding to the UK, Germany, Finland and other nations.
Additionally, in the US, activities are underway to develop practical applications for biotechnology while pursuing profit. By 2030, the US government has stated to achieve the sustainable annual production of 1 billion tons of biomass, produce up to 60 billion gallons of biofuels to replace 30% of petroleum consumption, and generate over 90 billion kWh of electricity to power 8 million households. And the country forecasts to reach approximately $250 billion annually as a total direct national revenue and to grow over a million new jobs. Considerable expansion of the bioeconomy market is expected, beginning with use and application of biotechnology in agriculture, health, and industry.
Innovations in biotechnology have already made progress in the agriculture field. Since the commercial cultivation of genetically modified crops in 1996, the area under cultivation has expanded by over 100 times and takes place in more than 25 countries around the world. Additionally, biotechnologically engineered crops are highly resistant to insects and disease, and superior in their ability to withstand droughts and flooding and in terms of longevity. It is believed that this, in addition to the production of nutritionally fortified crops, will enable the realization of an expanded supply and stable quality of food and animal feed, the alleviation of hunger, and will contribute to the resolution of future global food challenges.
Turning to health, biopharmaceuticals, which are expected to be valuable in treating genetic disorders and incurable diseases, are seen as a core field in terms of market scale and growth potential. Of the ten best-selling pharmaceuticals, seven are biopharmaceuticals. They are used in treatment of common diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and myocardial infarction, as well as diseases that are difficult to treat like AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, and are delivering effects to more than 350 million patients worldwide. The practical application of new medical technologies such as gene therapy to introduce normal genes into patients' cells and repair cell defects, and regenerative medicine utilizing iPS cells is gaining momentum, making possible basic treatment that could not previously be performed and leading to the maintenance and promotion of health and preventive medicine.
Furthermore, in the industrial field, which comprises the largest share of the bioeconomy market, new production processes have been made possible with new bio-based materials and biofuels. Unprecedented functionality and the manufacturing of high-performance materials, and the practical application of manufacturing processes not reliant on natural resources, has begun. The achievement of high-productivity, low-cost new bio-based materials is expected to lead to expanded applications as advanced materials. Cellulose nanofiber, for instance, with five times the strength of steel at one-fifth the weight as raw material is made from renewable natural resource “wood”, and has environmentally friendly by encouraging forest metabolism, is being considered for use in a variety of ways toward reducing the weight of aircraft and automobiles. And the capability to produce biofuels such as biojet and bioethanol efficiently using renewable resources like biomass will not only contribute to the securing of sources of alternative energy; it is seen facilitating carbon neutrality and helping to mitigate global warming.
Yokogawa’s involvement in biotechnology began some 30 years ago in the form of research on the theme, “measuring something soft.” At the time, Yokogawa’s developers lacked experience in biotechnology business, but through close cooperation with customers and university researchers succeeded in grasping the functionality required. As they went about reflecting that in technology development, they began to sense that the future of cell measurement held significant possibility. They then cells as one of the subjects for soft measurement and are “investigating cells for the purpose of visualizing that which cannot be seen.” By applying its accumulated development experience using measurement technology, Yokogawa has become the de facto standard in live-cell imaging equipment, fulfilling the wishes of customers and researchers who wanted to “observe the movement of living cells,” thereby making a substantial contribution to biotechnological research.
In recent years, in addition to the production of pharmaceuticals produced using the traditional chemical synthesis technique, the development of biopharmaceuticals manufactured utilizing living cells is also progressing due to advances in biotechnology. With the objective of resolving this issue, Yokogawa has already established several technologies, including “technology for measuring cellular status,” “technology for measuring the number of living cells,” and “technology for forecasting and controlling cell metabolism.” Toward improving the productivity and stability of biopharmaceuticals, Yokogawa is undertaking the development of a bioproduction platform equipped with predictive control technology employing inline measurements and modelling. And through lateral development into the manufacturing industry using the culture process, Yokogawa aims to contribute to the advancement of industry by achieving a new manufacturing system that transforms living things into microplants.
In line with the expansion of globalization of food and increase in genetically modified foods, and growing international trade of agricultural products, increased attention is being paid to food safety for consumers, as evidenced by the hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) systems now being compulsory. However, during safety investigations such as the inspection of microorganisms for contamination, cell cultures are necessary to check for bacterial contamination, and inevitably that would require about five days for culturing cells and extremely high proficiency in cell manipulation. Yokogawa, with the aim of changing these circumstances, is working to integrate its accumulated measurement technology and new gene technology toward the development of a rapid, user-friendly microorganism inspection method. Bringing this method into practical use will make possible the precise assessment of microbial contamination on site in a mere 60 minutes. This technology, in addition to contributing to significant cost reductions for food manufacturers, will become usable in a wide range of applications such as preventing the spread of infectious disease at airports and, it is expected to create a ripple effect.
Biotechnology has made tremendous progress in recent years and has the potential to bring about an epoch-making reform that should be termed the Fifth Industrial Revolution. Expectations are high for significant contributions to the resolution of 21st-century global challenges including food, medicine, energy, and the environment, as well as to further industrial development. In the bio-innovation sector, Yokogawa is undertaking R&D on the basic premise of “co-creation with customers.” In order to create something of true value for customers, it is crucial to work closely with them to discern issues and needs, collaborate in the development and proof-of-concept of technologies required to resolve those issues, and remain in ongoing dialogues. Yokogawa intends to further strengthen ties with its customers and strive together to create new value.