In environmental biotech, the idea of harnessing nature to help nature is not new. The world’s largest carbon capture plant Orca pumps CO2 deep into Iceland’s volcanic rocks, where it forms long-lasting carbonate minerals. San Francisco start-up Living Carbon plans to plant 5 million genetically-modified poplar trees, which grow 50% faster and capture 27% more carbon, across the US. Founder Maddie Hall, a former OpenAI employee, aims to “plant enough trees by 2030 to remove a gigaton of carbon.”
And this trend is now being supercharged by AI. Deep-learning language models, the kind of AI behind ChatGTP, are used to generate novel protein sequences from scratch. Again we see the old and new world come together here. In Evozyne’s evolution-based enzyme design, the Chicago lab fuses nature’s rules with deep learning to “mimic millions of years of evolution in the lab”. Its uses could enhance carbon capture and battery technologies.
We could all use some hope when it comes to the environment, so here’s more: if we maintain the momentum of Europe’s biotech innovation alone, McKinsey say the European Green Deal could become a reality by 2040.
Feel like the future looks a lot less bleak? The collective force of innovations like these glimmer with promise to change our world for the better. So helping the industry reach its full potential, and stay sustainable and available to all, is key. The Netherlands is among those incentivising this mission with its €60 million investment in cellular agriculture, the largest government grant to the industry. The plans to involve high school students, create open access testing and scale-up facilities are a promising sign of things to come. Our lab-enhanced future could be bright. So here’s to more support for those working today to keep societies healthier, greener, and well-fed, long into the century.