Synthetic biology is the practice of engineering gene sequences to create new biological systems and devices. In a commercial application, it often involves altering biological products for the purpose of health or reduced waste. Examples: biofuels, lab-grown meat, produce preservation, and wine made without grapes.
Why it's hot: Environmental and health concerns have fueled an interest in engineered solutions. Lab-grown meat or wine requires far fewer resources, and could be the solution to environmental concerns in many categories.
What's required: Entrants will need a background in genetics, biochemistry, or robotics.
Barriers to entry: New entrants might find this field highly technical and costly. Getting through the experimentation phase while paying for labs, equipment, and top talent will involve large sums of cash.
The downside: Most applications in this area are not yet ready for market, especially in the food and pharmaceutical industries. Beside the high costs, entrepreneurs might face extensive regulations.
Competition: Most of the venture capital for synthetic biology applications has gone to companies like Seattle-based Juno Therapeutics, which does genetic engineering to help patients fight disease. Some has gone to companies like Twist Bioscience, a San Francisco company developing a proprietary synthetic DNA manufacturing process to aid in diagnostics and the production of personalized medicines and sustainable chemicals. There are a handful of public companies in the industry, including gene editing Intellia Therapeutics, which raised $108 million in its 2016 IPO.
Growth: Through September 2016, 33 synthetic biology startups raised a total of $900 million through venture capital or public offerings globally, according to Thomson Reuters data. Compare that with 2014, when VCs invested about $400 million in companies with a significant synthetic biology focus.