From waste to high value chemicals

Professor Ian Paulsen

More than 200 synthetic biologists have landed on the Sunshine Coast to further explore the science that ultimately aims to underpin a thriving bio economy in regional Australia.

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology, supported by Visit Sunshine Coast, held their annual conference last week at the Novotel Twin Waters.

Synthetic biology relies on using waste agricultural, marine and municipal waste to convert biomass into biofuels, bioplastics and other high-value chemicals.

“For thousands of years, we have used microbes to create bread, wine and cheese,” says Centre Director, Distinguished Professor Ian Paulsen.

“Now we can modify microbes in tiny cellular ‘factories’ to replace many of the products currently produced by fossil fuels.”

Professor Paulsen said areas such as the Sunshine Coast stand to benefit from the outputs of synthetic biology which could create new industries and new jobs close to the source of waste products and feedstocks.

The Centre will be holding a tasting experience during the conference with several local food and beverage suppliers which potentially could have suitable waste outputs that lend themselves to bio-production of new products.

“Our own Centre alone has spun out seven start-up companies in less than three years. It’s a very active and vibrant space.

“Our researchers have been holding talks with industry in different parts of regional Australia and we’d love to hear from wineries, breweries, dairy farmers, councils or growers interested in learning more about the possibilities of value-adding through synthetic biology.”

Visit Sunshine Coast Head of Business Events Ali Thompson said she was thrilled to welcome the ARC Centre of Excellence in Synthetic Biology conference to the region.

“The centre conducts world-leading research that designs and builds microbes to turn agricultural and municipal waste into a vast array of sustainable products and I am keen to hear about the opportunities available for local businesses.

“Sustainability is so important on the Sunshine Coast, and this conference is proudly contributing to reforestation projects here through VSC’s Sunshine Coast Sustainability Program,” she said.

“I am excited to announce the ARC CoESB conference has committed to buy 50 trees that will be planted at Cooroy and, when delegates return in the future, they’ll be able to visit the site and see the trees and the positive impact they’ve made by leaving the Sunshine Coast greener than when they arrived.”

Synthetic biology is regarded as the basis of a flourishing bioeconomy that’s tipped to be worth $2–$4 trillion dollars in economic impact globally over the next two decades.