Generally, the study of how environmental signals affect and direct intracellular processes has been confined to a fairly narrow range of examples. But it is fair to assume that natural evolution will have found solutions to myriad problems that we have not examined, and thus that we have not identified biological organisms whose properties and metabolisms are uniquely suited to performing functions in a swathe of interesting niche scenarios.
Engineered living systems are likely to be useful in situations where their natural autonomy and ability to thrive in uncertain environments gives them an edge over traditionally designed, silicon-based engineering solutions. We are already beginning to see the fruits of exploring this. Biosynthesis is being deployed in aviation security, for example, with genetically engineered odorant receptors designed to literally sniff out biological hazards.10 It is likely that significant medical applications will eventually be found,11 and that suitably engineered bacterial networks will be able to achieve large-scale bioremediation of, for example, environmental pollution, through operation on whole ecosystems.