New Market Report Highlights Opportunity in Synthetic Biology Field

A recent industry report released by the equity research team at William Blair offers a great view of the synthetic biology market — both its current state and its tremendous potential in the future. If you don’t have access to the report, “Programming Life: Understanding the Transformative Potential of Synthetic Biology,” we’ve summarized a few highlights here.

Market Opportunity

The authors note that the broad applicability of synthetic biology makes it challenging to predict market values. “In terms of end products, the fact that synthetic biology has the potential to transform virtually every industry makes it difficult to come up with definitive estimates for the current and potential market opportunity,” they write. “The ability to program life opens virtually limitless possibilities.”

As a proxy, they use some estimates from key stakeholders. Ginkgo Bioworks, for instance, “estimates that approximately $40 billion will be spent in 2021 on cell programming research and development, with 60% spent on labor and the remaining 40% on tools,” the report states.

An estimate of the total value of end products comes from Zymergen, which produced a “bottom-up, industry-by-industry, application-by-application analysis [suggesting] that the total opportunity is at least $1.2 trillion across 20 separate industries it is targeting for potential products,” the authors note.

That tracks with a prediction from the McKinsey Global Institute, which estimated that “there will be approximately $2 trillion to $4 trillion of annual direct economic impact from bioengineered products” in the next decade or two, the William Blair analysts write. They also explore several markets expected to be major beneficiaries of synthetic biology in the coming years: food, agriculture, materials and energy, consumer goods, biopharma, bioremediation, and data storage.


One section of the report focuses on enabling technologies to speed up synthetic biology innovation, which they categorize as reading (DNA sequencing), writing (DNA synthesis), and editing (CRISPR and more). We’re honored to be included as one of the key companies in the gene editing space.

“To address the current limitations of CRISPR screening, particularly scalability, Inscripta has developed its OnyxTM platform, which consists of a benchtop instrument, consumables, and software,” the analysts report. “The potential of the Onyx platform is illustrated by one early experiment where scientists made more than 16,000 changes to genes in E. coli to optimize lysine productions. In just 10% of the time, the experiment was able to increase the variant space … by 1,000 times from what was done in previous experiments.”

They add: “Collectively, the current and future improvements in scalability, efficiency, and access made possible by Inscripta’s Onyx platform have the potential to dramatically accelerate the process of CRISPR screening and deliver new, better-performing cells for synthetic biology.”


With growing interest in investments targeting responsible environmental, social, and governance (ESG) approaches, the analysts point out that the synthetic biology industry will be compelling. “Synthetic biology can be used to produce better products more quickly, less expensively, and more sustainably,” they write. To date, they add, “the majority of investment has gone toward using synthetic biology to create sustainable alternatives in industries that have a significant impact on the environment.”

The authors note that synthetic biology is also expected to help address problems such as access to food and clean water as well as animal welfare. “It is not an exaggeration to state that synthetic biology has the potential to help solve some of the biggest challenges that humanity is facing, and we expect these issues to only grow in importance in the coming years,” they conclude.