A new report by the US Intelligence Community is projecting that by 2040, biotechnology could potentially be responsible for about 20% of the global economy, with its application in agriculture and manufacturing being the main drivers.

That will represent a huge leap from its current contribution to the global economy. Although worldwide figures are not exactly clear, the United States’ bioeconomy as at 2019 was estimated to contribute 5.1% to the total economy.

The European Union which applies a broader definition of bioeconomic activities estimates biotechnology contributes as much as 10% to its economy.

“Biotechnology is likely to make significant contributions to economic growth during the next two decades, potentially affecting 20 percent of global economic activity by 2040, notably in agriculture and manufacturing,” the 156-page report by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) predicts. 

Biotechnology is a broad area of biology, involving the use of living systems and microorganisms (including bacteria) to develop or make products.

The wide concept of biotechnology encompasses a wide range of procedures for modifying living organisms according to human purposes, going back to domestication of animals, cultivation of the plants, and “improvements” to these through breeding programs that employ artificial selection and hybridization. Modern usage also includes genetic engineering as well as cell and tissue culture technologies. 

In Ghana, the University of Ghana, KNUST and other universities have departments that are focused on biotechnology, including having specialized courses like agricultural biotechnology. 

By 2040, biotechnology innovations most likely will enable societies to reduce disease, hunger, and petrochemical dependence and will transform how we interact with the environment and each other, the report says. 

Societies will be challenged to harness these beneficial advancements while addressing the market, regulatory, safety, and ethical concerns surrounding technologies like genetically modified crops and foods. 

Improved capability to predictably manipulate biological systems, augmented by advances in automation, information, and materials sciences, is spurring unprecedented innovation in health, agriculture, manufacturing, and cognitive sciences, the report adds. 

The “Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World” report which details the above is the 7th edition of the National Intelligence Council (NIC’s) Global Trends report. 

The report which is published every four years assesses key trends and uncertainties that will shape the United States and the world at large over the next two decades. 

The NIC is the center for strategic thinking within the US Intelligence Community which consists of 18 different state institutions including Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency (NSA), among others.

The NIC leads the Intelligence Community’s efforts to provide policymakers with the best information possible to be able to make good judgement on US policy. 

The report however does not represent the official, coordinated view of the US Intelligence Community nor US policy. 

More on biotechnology 

In a section detailing the benefits and risks of advanced biotechnology applications, the report observes genetically modified organisms and biological processes will be used to create new materials and medicines which lead to ready production of new and novel molecules, materials and treatments. 

Agriculture and food production will be transformed through advanced biotechnology, particularly automated precision production processes and integrated cropand livestock, using genetically altered organisms.

This will lead to variety of cheaper, more nutritious foods created with lower environmental impact. 

The report however warns of risks of reduced biodiversity, social tensions over genetic modification, as well as workforce and supply chain disruptions.

It also warns the pace of technological change, notably developments in advanced manufacturing, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology, may hasten disruptions to manufacturing and global supply chains, eliminating some modes of production and jobs. 

Novel technologies will appear and diffuse faster and faster, disrupting jobs, industries, communities, the nature of power, and what it means to be human. 

Shifting supply chains could disproportionately affect less advanced economies, while many new jobs will require workers with improved or retooled skills.

A transforming health sector

In the areas of health, the report predicts advanced biotechnology applications like personal and digital health, as well as personal medicine will allow for tailored medical treatments using artificial intelligence.

This will combine data from genetic sequencing, diagnostics and biomonitoring to improve upon healthcare.

There will also be cell and gene-based therapies, combined with improvements in drug design and production for faster disease response.

This will ensure rapid and more effective medical treatments and on demand medicine production. But the US Intelligence Community warns there will be dispute over research and design prioritization in developing versus developed countries. 

COVID-19 Pandemic 

The report describes the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as the most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come. 

It has shaken long-held assumptions about resilience and adaptation and created new uncertainties about the economy, governance, geopolitics, and technology.

The pandemic is slowing and possibly reversing some longstanding trends in human development, especially the reduction of poverty and disease, and closing gender inequality gaps.

The longest lasting reversals may be in poverty reduction across Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, followed by losses in gender equality.

The resources devoted to fighting COVID-19 and social restrictions could reverse years of progress against malaria, measles, polio, and other infectious diseases by consuming key financial, material, and personnel resources.

The good news however is that as the global COVID-19 vaccine development effort has shown that technologies often integrated in new and imaginative ways, can be quickly reapplied from their original use to solve crisis needs.

The research that enabled the unprecedented and rapid development of effective COVID-19 vaccines built on decades of foundational investments in the health sciences.

The report predicts that similarly, long standing challenges like climate change, may be moderated by bringing together suites of technological solutions that each address one element of a much larger issue.