To uncover the top biotechnology innovations set to have the biggest impact across science, medicine, engineering, and agriculture, we’ve analyzed the data from our academia-industry matchmaking platform, Connect, to find the most promising technical innovations in development at universities around the world that the R&D community are most interested in. 

The biotech innovations included in this year’s list are those that received the highest levels of engagement in 2022 from R&D professionals at companies including Johnson & Johnson, Roche, GSK, Syngenta, and Bayer using our platform to find new academic partners. The ranking factors in three metrics: 1) the number of introduction requests to the academic teams behind each project, 2) positive feedback from the companies reviewing them, and 3) total article reads. 

Each of the features in our top biotechnology innovations list has been published on our online matchmaking platform, Connect, by a technology transfer office in a university or academic institute to find innovation-driven companies to collaborate with on further development, commercialization and deployment.

A full non-confidential summary of each biotech innovation can be viewed on Connect through the links below each summary. Access to the platform is completely free for companies and there are no downstream fees associated with using it to connect with any of the 8,000 innovations showcased by the 250+ academic institutes subscribed. Create a free account here and get started connecting with unsurfaced research from universities and institutes worldwide.

Top Biotechnology Innovations

We’ve turned this list into a video if you would prefer to watch or listen through our top biotechnology innovations list. You can use the timestamps to navigate through the video to find those you’re most interested in, but to start a conversation with the team behind the project you will need to request an introduction through our platform.

10. Genetically Engineered Plants that Resist Environmental Stresses

Plant root epidermis have long root hair projections to increase their surface area for water and nutrient absorption. Phosphates are a key nutrient for plant growth and photosynthesis. However, the low concentration of phosphates in soil makes uptake difficult and can cause nutrient stress in plants.

Biotechnology researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered that the overexpression of a gene, GRP8, increases the production of root hairs and thus, increased the surface area for water and nutrient absorption. The overexpression of this glycine-rich RNA-binding protein has also been found to improve plant tolerance to phosphate starvation, enhancing resistance to environmental stresses and reducing the need for fertiliser.

Read the full project summary to learn more about this top biotechnology innovations feature.

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9. A Cell-free Protein Production Platform

Cell-free protein synthesis (CFPS) results in the production of proteins using biological transcription and translation processes without the need for living cells. Instead, this method uses a lysate containing all the essential macromolecules that facilitate the biological synthesis, however, lysate preparation is time-consuming and expensive, and so there is need for improved methods of CFPS.

Researchers at the Australian National University have developed a novel method for producing encapsulated cell-like structures (eCells) based on the lysate of E. coli for use in CFPS. This biotech breakthrough allows the efficient and cost-effective production of eCells, which in turn can be used to synthesize bioproducts of high commercial value and industrial relevance.

Read the full project summary to learn more about this top biotechnology innovations feature.

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8. Bacterially-Derived Nanoparticles for Selective Antimicrobial Treatments

The rise of antimicrobial resistance poses a global threat, particularly in hospital environments where infections can lead to life-threatening complications. Current treatments often eradicate both harmful and beneficial bacteria, disrupting the microbiome and encouraging resistance.

SynCell Biotechnology, a spinout from Northeastern University, areaddressing this challenge. By developing selenium nanoparticles from MRSA bacteria and incorporating them into wound dressings, MRSA infections can be selectively targeted while preserving beneficial bacteria. Unlike conventional treatments, SynCell's technology offers a tailored, antibiotic-free solution with no risk of resistance. The technology could be used to treat bacterial skin infections or broader antimicrobial applications, and the team are seeking partners for investment and development.

Read the full technology summary to learn more about this top biotechnology innovations feature.

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7. A New Strain of E. Coli for the Synthesis of Superior Biodegradable Plastics

As global plastic waste has more than doubled in the last 20 years, biodegradable plastics are becoming increasingly sought after. One class of promising biodegradable plastics are polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), which are produced by the biotechnology industry through microbial fermentation.

With these PHA monomers being produced by microbes, their final composition can be difficult to control in a uniform way which affects the overall physical properties of the material. Now, however, State University of New York scientists have developed a new strain of E. coli that synthesises PHA copolymers with tailorable combinations of monomers, therefore allowing the physical properties to be adjusted and fine-tuned for each application.

Read the full project summary to learn more about this top biotechnology innovations feature.

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6.A new tool to produce disulphide bonded proteins in bacteria

Disulphide bonds are used in many proteins for stability and function, but their production on large scalesis challenging. Current methods often require complex refolding or expensive mammalian cell systems, limiting scalability and efficiency.

Aiming to address this, researchers at Oulu University have developed a plasmid-based system with protein folding catalysts that enables active protein production in bacterial cytoplasm. This innovation eliminates the need for refolding, works with any E. coli strains, and provides significant increases in protein yields. Applications include drug development, enzyme production and diagnostics, offering a cost-effective solution for protein production for industry. The team at Oulu University are seeking licensing and co-development partners.

Read the full technology summary to learn more about this top biotechnology innovations feature.

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5. New Methods for Controlling Gene Expression in Agricultural Biotechnology

Growing populations and ever-changing global climates have opened the door to a myriad of challenges that affect food sources on a global scale. As such, the biotechnology industry has expedited a need to generate faster and more precise technologies in order to really push and create positive impacts on global food sources. One such constraint to this development of new food sources is the routine implementation of endogenous promoters during plant gene expression, the use of which makes controlling and fine-tuning said gene expression more difficult, and therefore delaying and even halting the production of new and improved plant species that can be used as food sources.

A research team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have devised a novel tri-pointed synthetic production strategy for transcription regulators by utilising key elements of yeast and plant species. The use of these elements allows the process to cover a diverse library of transcriptional regulators to control eukaryotic transcription. This technology will provide the agri-tech industry with an efficient way of coordinating the expression of multiple genes in a targeted, environmentally responsive and tissue-specific manner, giving way to the development of new and accessible food products on a global scale.

Read the full project summary to learn more about this top biotechnology innovations feature.

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4. A Mouse Platform with a Fully-Functional Human Immune System

As a lot of medical research relies heavily on animal models or incomplete human systems, there is a requirement for fully functional humanized mice to advance biomedical research. Previous models have fallen short due to low engraftment rates and compromised immune responses, limiting their applicability.

At UT Health San Antonio, scientists have developed a new strain of mice with a human immune system by utilizing human CD34+ stem cells from umbilical cord blood. By administering β-Estradiol (a female sex hormone), they achieved up to 95% human cell engraftment, leading to a fully functional human immune system. This development enables rapid antibody generation, supports human-specific pathogen studies, and enhances drug screening. It has potential to advance preclinical research and offers new insights into diseases previously hindered by inadequate models. The technology is open to licensing and co-development partnerships.

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3. Precisely Controlling Protein Expression with RNA Therapeutics

There is a growing need for targeted therapeutics for diseases that result from imbalances in protein production. RNA-based approaches, like mRNA vaccines and antisense oligonucleotides (ASOs) have recently emerged as promising solutions. However, a key challenge still remains in precisely modulating protein expression through these approaches.

At the University of Rochester, researchers have developed a method to precisely control protein expression using ASOs. By targeting specific mRNAs, they can enhance or suppress protein production, offering a new tool for therapeutic development. The researchers’ innovation has shown success in animal models of heart failure, opening doors to treat diseases like cardiac hypertrophy and organ fibrosis. By providing effective and targeted treatment, this technology has the potential to improve the treatment of other conditions including neurogenerative disorders and rare genetic diseases. The team are seekingpartners to deploy this technology through an exclusive license.

Read the full technology summary to learn more about this top biotechnology innovations feature.

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2. Universal Plant Gene Modification for More Efficient Growth

Human population growth and climate change are placing increasing pressure on the production of crops with improved nitrogen use efficiency, for nutrition in agriculture and environmental carbon sequestration. The expression and importance of early nodulin (ENOD) genes have been shown to be essential for nitrogen-fixing nodule formation and have been applied to increase nitrogen use efficiency. However, because researchers haven’t fully understood how ENOD works to alter plant growth, characteristics and development, it has not been used efficiently.

At the University of Western Australia, scientists have identified the role of ENOD93 gene inside plant cells, enabling targeted tuning and manipulation of ENOD93 in plants during specific phases of their lifecycle. This biotechnology will allow for the control over the development of desirable characteristics in plants (e.g. nitrogen use efficiency, rapid flowering, resilience, fertility, growth and biomass) to economically and sustainably meet growing demands for crop production.

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1. Naturally Occurring, Biocompatible Proteins for Tunable Proton Conduction

Proton-conducting materials are essential for renewable energy and bioelectronics technologies. Many modern devices rely on the transport of protons, ranging from fuel cells and transistors to biosensors and medical implants. Protein-based proton-conducting materials have received considerably less attention than other, man-made materials, despite offering greater potential for modularity, tunability and processability.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine have fabricated a biocompatible and versatile proton-conducting material from naturally occurring, structural proteins found in cephalopods. These Proton-Conducting Cephalopod Proteins (“PCCPs”) can withstand heat and acidity and can be modified using genetic engineering techniques to tune the resulting electrical properties to different specifications, allowing ease of integration into protonic flow systems.

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What do we classify as a ‘biotechnology innovation’?

For this top biotechnolgy innovations list, a ‘biotechnology innovation’ is a technology that utilizes biological systems, and living organisms to develop or create different products. Examples of processes that use biotechnology are brewing and baking bread, as they both use yeast, a living organism to create a product.

Applications of biotechnology include therapeutics and diagnostics for a range of diseases, bioremediation, waste treatment, sustainable energy production and genetically modified crops for improving agriculture and food production.

A (very) brief history of biotechnology

One of the earliest examples of biotechnology is in the selective breeding of crops to increase beneficial characteristics such as yields, nutritional value, disease-, drought-, and pest resistance. Traditional plant breeding methods have created seedless watermelons, grape tomatoes, and broccolini.

Biotechnology arose from the German field of zymotechnology, which began as a search for a better understanding of industrial fermentation from known fermentation processes in the production of food and drinks. The zymotechnology industry boomed during World War I with the increased demand for products such as animal feed and lactic acid, a replacement for hydraulic fluid.

The Hungarian Károly Ereky coined the word biotechnology in Hungary in 1919 to describe a technology that converted raw materials into a more useful product. Other milestones in biotechnology history include the mass production of penicillin in the 1940s using a fermentation process developed in America. 

From 1945 onwards, the field of biotechnology has focused on harnessing genetic engineering and creating new medicines like vaccines and mass-producing others, like insulin. In 1994, genetically modified crops were first introduced in the USA. There are currently 13 crops with GM varieties commercially available around the world.

The biotechnology industry has shown rapid growth since the 1970s and the global biotechnology market is currently valued at 752.8 Billion. Biotech companies globally have reached a combined value of $2.0 trillion.

What does the future hold for biotechnology innovations?

There are many challenges that the biotechnology industry face. There is a high level of risk involved in developing biotechnology innovations and the associated trials and ensuring the costs are covered through patents and licensing deals. There are many ethical considerations involved in biotechnology as the use of genetics increases, from how to protect patient privacy to social concerns, such as the controversy surrounding GM crops and GMOs.

Despite these challenges, the development of breakthrough health initiatives from biotechnology innovations will transform our future as we tackle global challenges including health, medicine, and agriculture. Labiotech recently interviewed Bill Coyle, principal, ZS on their prediction for the trends and priorities in biotechnology in 2023. Bill cited cancer, antimicrobial resistance, and sepsis as the areas with the most potential for development in 2023, but also mentioned applications of biotech in a range of non-life science research areas including climate change and food security.

Written by: Frances Wilkinson, Jolie Hamilton-Warford (1, 2), Emily Jones (3, 4, 7, 8), Nathan Ford (5, 6), Ella Cliff, (9, 10). Edited by Frances Wilkinson and Jake Mitchell.

Copyrights reserved unless otherwise agreed – Inpart., 2023: ‘Top biotechnology innovations’