As rapid innovation in computer sciences helps bolster advances in biotechnologies, China is edging forward as a world leader in the biotech sector, one expert said.
"Biotechnologies, including synthetic biology, are going to be foundational to the 21st century economy and they're also going to be a critical arena for global competition in the geopolitical realm," said Tara O'Toole, former undersecretary of Homeland Security for science and technology and current executive vice president and senior fellow at In-Q-Tel, an Arlington, Virginia-based investment firm that works with defense and intelligence organizations.
"China in particular, is pursuing a very aggressive strategy to become the world leader in biotechnology," she added.
A deepened understanding of biotech has moved the world towards a "biorevolution," O'Toole said during a webinar hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This could be the next stage in a series of scientific revolutions that have marked key inflection points in civilizations dating back hundreds of years, she said.
This type of revolution is founded on several core biological technologies, "but it is all about being able to read, write and edit the code of life," O'Toole said.
One core technology is DNA sequencing, or the ability to read DNA. Another is DNA synthesize, or the ability to write code for DNA, she noted.
"Our ability to write it, to synthesis DNA ... is less advanced," she said. "It's slower, it's more expensive, but again we are getting better and better."
Gene editing is another core biotechnology. It allows scientists to alter a DNA sequence by adding, swapping or removing genes.