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Innovation in synthetic biology can strengthen American supply chains

The Hill logo The Hill 8/3/2022 Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.), opinion contributor
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The COVID-19 pandemic exposed domestic supply chain gaps that have impacted the lives of all Americans. Global shutdown orders put a magnifying glass on where we source our goods and revealed how vulnerable our domestic production capability is without access to raw materials, chemicals and many other inputs.

The lessons we’ve learned from identifying these gaps has Congress rethinking measures to promote additional domestic manufacturing. While Congress was myopically focused on the manufacturing of semiconductors, it is critical that Congress holistically consider how we keep America’s economy competitive in advanced technologies. Another area Congress should consider in future debates is how emerging industries, like synthetic biology, can play a key role in shoring up supply chains.

Synthetic biology is a growing field of science that is creating new biomanufacturing processes to produce medicines, food, fuels, industrial supply chain materials and more. The United States leads the world on this cutting-edge science, which can completely transform existing supply chains to make them more secure, resilient and sustainable. Synthetic biology takes our knowledge of DNA sequencing to allow engineers to manufacture a product cell by cell. Its application is not limited to life sciences, in fact it is already being used to create fabrics, food flavoring, fertilizers and more.

This homegrown innovation should be viewed as a strategic resource to safeguard against supply chain disruptions. It flourished in the United States’ free market system and can provide us with a position of strength around the world. Yet China is threatening to undermine the environment that spurred this innovation with their heavy-handed government intervention.

According to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s most recent annual report to Congress, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has identified synthetic biology as a priority science and technology industry to develop their 14th Five-Year Plan and have allocated billions in state-driven funds to develop national labs and corporate champions. As the United States enters into a long-term competition with China on sensitive technologies of the 21th century, it is imperative that we are doing everything possible to innovate and lead.

We need forward-thinking policies that will renew focus on making our own goods here at home and synthetic biology provides the key. Similar applications could be expected for other critical areas like biofuels and chemicals with defense applications. In fact, industry leaders have already mapped out several shovel-ready projects that would create 80 facilities and 10,000 jobs nationwide.

Supporting synthetic biology as a key technology focus for research and development increases the attractiveness for other countries to do business with the U.S. Time is not on our side. Chinese investments are moving forward, as are similar efforts in Japan and the European Union. We cannot let other countries beat us to the punch and prevent the U.S. from leading a space that we are poised to dominate. Failure is not an option. Our nation’s success in this burgeoning industry is critical to our national security.

As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, I intend to work with my colleagues to set international standards in this area that will put the U.S. industry in the global driver’s seat along with its allies and partners.

Synthetic biology can be a catalyst on the road to a more prosperous, innovative, and sustainable economy. It’s time for Congress to focus on strengthening American competitiveness and innovation, making our economy stronger and more sustainable in the years ahead.

Lloyd Smucker represents Pennsylvania’s 11th District and serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on the Budget.

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