Press release ¤ Information de presse
Work in the laboratory has been changing for a while now: Robots are taking over repetitive tasks, high throughput technologies are generating tremendous amounts of data that are analyzed with the help of big data methods and, increasingly, artificial intelligence. However, many of these developments are still punctual.
The DECHEMA position paper “Taking biotech research to the next level” that has been introduced in 2018 and is now available in an updated English version. The authors analyze the individual developments brought about by digitalization, miniaturization and automation. They reach up to the establishment of “digital lab twins” that have sped up the development of production strains and processes tremendously. Especially in biotechnology research, automation and miniaturization have multiplied the knowledge about molecular structures and mechanisms, resulting in databases that are the foundation for the design of new enzymes, metabolic pathways and whole bioprocesses.
While each of these developments by itself has already revolutionized biotech research, the authors point out that the the true revolution lays in the combination of all three trends. They state that the developments are not yet perceived as a coherent phenomenon and the potential synergies not fully understood. For Germany as a traditionally engineering-oriented country, the convergence of these technologies offers special opportunities. The authors list fields of actions to be taken by researchers, industry, funding organisations and the education system, in order to fully exploit the potential.
The culmination point is the so-called “biofoundry” for the automated, “industrialized” development and optimization of strain and processes. The experts predict that the traditional strict separation of laboratory development and production process will also be overcome more and more in industry. This creates a picture of a biotechnology industry in which the way new products are developed and efficient manufacturing processes are designed will change dramatically. This will result in new markets and changed business models.
It will also affect the role of humans in the research environment. The paradigm shift will be that humans are currently only supported by isolated highly integrated automation systems (such as pipetting devices or microcultivation systems) in the laboratory. In an automated laboratory of the future, the automation system will take over all elementary laboratory tasks, and humans will primarily play the role of final information assessor and process decision maker, supported by augmented reality technology.
The paper is available for download at dechema.de/Biotech_Research_Next_Level