U.S. National Academies Issue Report on the Bioeconomy

As a founding member of the Bioeconomy Alliance, Inscripta is a champion of activities that promote biology as a key economic driver. We were delighted to see a recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that helps to define the bioeconomy and makes a number of important recommendations for supporting its growth.

Perhaps the most impressive statistic from the experts behind “Safeguarding the Bioeconomy” is their calculation of the value of the bioeconomy. In 2016, they report, it “accounted for about 5.1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.” They add, “In dollar terms, this represents $959.2 billion.”

We already knew the bioeconomy was valuable, but those numbers are really eye-opening. One of the most difficult elements of this calculation was establishing the definition for what counts as part of the bioeconomy, which the National Academies team describes as “the economic activity related to the life sciences research enterprise.” They acknowledge that it is a major challenge to establish clear boundaries because it spans so many different areas.

Since those boundaries are essential to understanding and promoting the bioeconomy, though, the team recognized six market segments that comprise it. They are:

  • genetically modified crops and other products
  • bio-based industrial materials such as chemicals and biofuels
  • biopharmaceuticals and biologics
  • biotech-based consumer products, such as genetic tests
  • R&D services and lab equipment
  • computational or technical design elements (but not the care component) of precision medicine

The report also cites life sciences, biotechnology, engineering, and computing and information sciences as key drivers. At a more granular level, though, the team credits three recent developments as being particularly consequential for transforming this area of the market — DNA sequencing, genetic engineering, and automated, high-throughput molecular operations.

Looking ahead, the report authors made several recommendations for how best to ensure the continued success of the bioeconomy. While they are all important, a few really resonated with us. For example, the report urges the establishment of “a government-wide

strategic coordinating body tasked with safeguarding and realizing the potential of the U.S.

bioeconomy.” This would help address the challenge we currently face in having leadership and regulation of the bioeconomy split across many different government agencies and departments. Having high-level leadership to coordinate our country’s support of the bioeconomy would be a significant step forward.

The other recommendations we believe are most important are related to the development of a skilled workforce. “The U.S. government should prioritize investment in basic biological science, engineering, and computing and information sciences,” the authors write. “In addition, talent development, at all levels, to support these research areas should be a high priority for future public investment.” They note that the government should also “continue to support policies that attract and retain scientists from around the world who can contribute to the U.S. bioeconomy, recognizing that open academic engagement has been strongly beneficial to the U.S. scientific and technological enterprise.” We absolutely cannot have a thriving bioeconomy without the workforce to support it, so these elements are crucial.

Here at Inscripta, we believe that a bio-based economy can bring growth to all areas of our country — not just coastal areas that have flourished in the tech-based economy, but also those areas historically associated with mining and manufacturing that have been passed over by a tech-centric world. This is an incredible opportunity to address regional inequality. We and our colleagues at the Bioeconomy Alliance are working diligently to ensure that we can fully take advantage of that opportunity, and we thank the National Academies experts who worked on this report for their help in raising awareness of the importance of this issue.