Small Things Big Changes Volume 1



A message from Professor Alan Rowan

AIBN Director

It is now recognised that humankind stands on the brink of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will fundamentally alter the way people live, work and relate to one another. In its scale, scope and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.

Professor Alan Rowan
Professor Alan Rowan, AIBN Director

Indeed, humanity’s ability to address a wide range of global problems — from climate change and resource sustainability to food security and disease — will require advances in scientific knowledge and applied technology. Central to this monumental shift are major technological advancements that are already rapidly changing how we interact with the biological world, particularly the world of microorganisms.

Humans have been harnessing the power of microorganisms for many millennia. In this magazine you’ll discover how the fermentation of fruits and grains by wild yeasts and microbes became systematic cultural knowledge that led to the earliest breweries, and most likely played a role in the dawn of agriculture. In time, this led to early concepts of germs, the discovery of antibiotics, and ultimately the rise of modern biomedicine. Incredibly, we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Today, the emergence of inexpensive, precise genome editing tools is revolutionising biology. You’ll learn how scientists are pioneering these and other technologies, including computational modelling and robotics, to enable the tailored genetic design of microbes. This is enabling us to use those microbes as tiny factories that perform complex chemistry, and in so doing allows fast, large-scale production of valuable chemicals and medicines. We call this Advanced Biomanufacturing and, as you’ll see, it’s already playing a critical role in how we care for the environment and global health.

In particular, Advanced Biomanufacturing has the potential to significantly reduce our reliance on natural gas and oil for the production of chemicals, plastics and fuels, and can even facilitate the detection and cleanup of environmental contaminants. Similarly, modified microbes and viruses are being marshalled into service for the rapid discovery and production of new medicines.

These biotechnologies will not only profoundly influence the future of this planet and the people on it, they will also enable us to explore other planets. As you’ll discover, NASA scientists and their colleagues have already identified synthetic biology and biomanufacturing as critical to establishing a human settlement on Mars.

There is an exciting future ahead, and we invite you to join us.

Professor Alan Rowan
AIBN Director

Dr Fiona McMillan

Dr Fiona McMillan
Dr Jane Ilsley
Bronwyn Adams
Jessica Heinemann

Siobhan Remy

For further information contact

Small Things Big Changes
Produced by the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology 

© The University of Queensland 2019
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