Designer phages: World Economic Forum emerging technologies report 

As a World Economic Forum platform partner, Frontiers is collaborating with the Forum on the 2023 edition of its annual emerging technologies report. Chosen by an international panel of experts, the list of top ten emerging technologies included in the report were selected from nearly 100 contenders based on criteria including novelty, applicability, depth, and power. 

Credit: Frontiers

Designer phages   

There has been a growing recognition of the crucial role in human health played by the microbiome—the community of microbes living on and within the body. Recent advances in synthetic biology have allowed the engineering of the microbiome using phages – viruses that selectively infect specific types of bacteria. This creation of so-called designer phages has been identified by the Forum as one of this year’s top ten emerging technologies. 

By reprogramming phages using laboratory tools, individual bacterial species can be targeted to produce therapeutic molecules or to become sensitive to specific drugs. Mine Orlu of the steering committee for the Forum report stated: “Engineering microbiomes using designer phages represents a groundbreaking approach to improving human well-being and agricultural productivity. By reprogramming the genetic information of these viruses, scientists can selectively target specific bacteria to prevent or treat diseases in both animals and plants.” 

Designer phages have shown potential in treating microbiome-associated diseases and enhancing agricultural productivity. Promising early results are attracting significant venture capital for clinical testing of engineered phages, which will continue to emerge as a powerful method to enhance the health of humans, animals, and plants. 

Sangryeol Ryu, section chief editor at Frontiers in Microbiology, one of the journals supporting the Forum’s project, said: “The threat from antimicrobial resistant pathogenic bacteria is increasing and the COVID-19 pandemic worsened this situation as antibiotics were widely used to treat covid patients. Designer phages can provide a rapid solution to combat antimicrobial resistance and the phage biology section of Frontiers in Microbiology is directing its efforts to support the research necessary to make designer phages more efficient.” 

About the emerging technologies report 

For the first time this year the emerging technologies report incorporates “impact fingerprint” survey data offering a more in-depth analysis of the technology’s predicted impact on people, planet, prosperity, industry, and equity over coming years. The academics surveyed were selected from Frontiers’ network of scientific journal editors, while industry leaders were selected from the Forum’s Innovator Communities.  

Frontiers’ chief executive editor Frederick Fenter, who has spearheaded the publisher’s collaboration on the report, said: “This report is an important interface between researchers working at the forefront of science and the leaders who need to understand their work. It has been particularly inspiring to collaborate with the Forum in developing new features to enhance the report’s impact and consolidate its position as an essential resource across research, industry and policy making.” 

To facilitate deeper engagement with the emerging technologies, Frontiers has also co-curated transformation maps for each technology. These are hosted on the Forum’s strategic intelligence platform, where readers can learn more about the key issues of each technology and how it connects to other topics on the global agenda as well as find the latest articles on the topic from trusted sources. 

About Frontiers  

Frontiers is the 3rd most-cited and 6th largest research publisher. We publish groundbreaking discoveries by the world’s top experts. Scientists empower society and our mission is to accelerate scientific discovery by making science open. We place the researcher at the center of everything we do and enable the research community to develop the solutions we need to live healthy lives on a healthy planet. Featuring custom-built technology, artificial intelligence, and rigorous quality standards, our research articles have been viewed more than 1.9 billion times, reflecting the power of research that is open for all.

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