Team:Sydney Australia/Sustainable


"Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future."
- United Nations General Assembly, 2015

Synthetic biology and genetic engineering will be key players in the fight against current and future global issues such as pandemics, genetic diseases, food insecurity, and climate change. However, the exclusiveness of participation in synthetic biology research and development must be overcome to make this possible (French, 2019).

Wealthy developed nations with greater access to research infrastructure, expertise and a skilled workforce are leading the way in research and development, and are reaping the benefits. The United States, England, Germany and China contributed more than 70% of the 13,050 synthetic biology papers published globally since 1980, with only 0.19% of published research from African countries (French, 2019). Previous research has identified several factors underpinning this research inequality, including a lack of research infrastructure as well as practical and theoretical education in molecular biology (Hollis, 2013; French 2019; Flores Buenso & Tangney, 2020)

Synthetic biology should be used as a tool for peace and prosperity, rather than a barrier. Our team identified a need to address this inequity to ensure that the advancement of synthetic biology is used as a tool to improve human flourishing globally, and to reduce inequality, rather than as a source of inequity between developed and developing nations. Our team identified a need to address this inequality between developed and developing nations. Through equality of access to synthetic biology tools, the advancement of synthetic biology can be used to reduce inequality and improve human flourishing,

The CSIRO's Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform has emphasised the importance of researching and developing broadly applicable synthetic biology 'foundational technologies' in order to advance synthetic biology in Australia and abroad (CSIRO, 2021). Our design for a naturally transformable strain of E. coli is an example of a foundational technology that could be applied to break through the barriers preventing the establishment of thriving research ecosystems in developing countries. Free Coli can therefore advance multiple SDG goals by contributing to the establishment of a research and development capability and underpinning the economic, health, agricultural and environmental benefits of translating and commercialising synthetic biology research.

Goal 8: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

Target 8.2: Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour intensive sectors.

Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) recently released their report A National Synthetic Biology Roadmap: Identifying commercial and economic opportunities for Australia (CSIRO, 2021). The report found synthetic biology-enabled solutions could potentially create a $700 billion global economic opportunity by 2040. The report found up to $27 billion in annual revenue and 44,000 new jobs for Australia alone could be created by 2040.

Why shouldn't the potential economic benefits of synthetic biology-enabled solutions and their applications also be unlocked for developing countries in greater need of increased economic productivity? Globally, we are on the precipice of a scientific revolution that could see the world transformed by synthetic biology's applications in health, agriculture, biosecurity and environment remediation.

In order for developing countries to leverage the rise of synthetic biology and share in its economic and health benefits, these nations and communities need to develop a critical synthetic biology capability that is commercially feasible. The development of such a capability will, in the first instance, require:

  1. The establishment of a thriving research ecosystem;
  2. The creation of a pipeline of skilled and educated synthetic biology researchers and workers; and
  3. Investment in research translation into commercialisable products.

Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

Target 4.3: By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.
Target 4.4: By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
Target 4.5: By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations

Increasing accessibility to synthetic biology is partly dependent on ensuring developing countries have access to a pipeline of educated and skilled synthetic biology researchers. Free Coli will fill a gap in the foundational technology market and provide a cheaper, more efficient and safe host organism for synthetic biology to enable greater use in secondary and tertiary education.

Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Target 3.8: Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all.
Target 3.9: By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination.
Target 3.b: Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and non-communicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines, in accordance with the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health, which affirms the right of developing countries to use the full provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights regarding flexibilities to protect public health, and, in particular, provide access to medicines for all.

French (2019) argued that synthetic biology could make the greatest contribution to the UN Sustainable Development Goals mission through its potential to 1) reduce the use of harmful industrial chemicals by providing synthetic biology-enabled alternatives, 2) cleaning up environmental pollutants through bioremediation, 3) increasing crop productivity and soil health, and 4) replacing synthetic, non-renewable materials with biological alternatives. Through Free Coli's contribution to developing synthetic biology research and development capabilities in nations suffering from inequitable distribution of research infrastructure and expertise, those nations will also be able to benefit from locally grown therapeutics that result from translating and commercialising synthetic biology research.


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), A National Synthetic Biology Roadmap: Identifying Commercial and Economic Opportunities for Australia, 2021, available at [accessed 11 October 2021].

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Synthetic Biology Future Science Platform: Foundational Technologies, available at [accessed 11 October 2021]

French, K.E. (2019) Harnessing synthetic biology for sustainable development. Nature Sustainability, 2, 250-252. doi: 10.1038/s41893-019-0270-x

Hollis, A. (2013). Synthetic biology: ensuring the greatest global value. Systems and synthetic biology, 7(3), 99-105. doi: 10.1007/s11693-013-9115-5.

UN General Assembly, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 21 October 2015, A/RES/70/1, available at [accessed 11 October 2021].