Synthetic biology

Submission - October 2011

With Decision IX/29, and in particular in accordance with paragraph 4 of decision X/13, the CBD called for "submissions of information on synthetic biology and geo-engineering, while applying the precautionary approach to the field release of synthetic life, cell or genome into the environment".
We herewith would like to submit our concerns and relevant information to particular aspects of Synthetic Biology, such as DIY Synthetic Biology and Bio-hacking.

Submission - October 2011

The new and emerging issue of synthetic biology is relevant to the attainment of the objectives of the CBD, its thematic programmes of work and cross-cutting issues.
We recommend that SBSTTA, in the development of options and advice on the new and emerging issue of synthetic biology for the consideration of COP11, consider the following actions/recommendations under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress, and the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing.

Opinion piece - August 2010

Letter to New Scientist

"We consider that during the dialogue, several scientists made statements about synthetic biology that bore no relation to current knowledge, and did not mention the uncertainties involved. In particular, we felt that the principle of scientific uncertainty was not always fully conveyed, despite, in our opinion, the public being perfectly capable of understanding it."

Report - December 2009

Few would deny that agriculture is especially severely affected by climate change and that the right practices contribute to mitigate it, yet expectations of the new climate agreement diverge sharply, as well as notions on what are good and what are bad agricultural practices and whether soil carbon sequestration should be part of carbon trading.

Report - April 2007

This document focuses on particular types of ‘biofuel’ which we prefer to call agrofuel because of the intensive, industrial way it is produced, generally as monocultures, often covering thousands of hectares, most often in the global South.


Super organisms for bioeconomy ...

The goal of Synthetic Biology and its proponents like Craig Venter are novel organisms for specific purposes, constructed like a machine in which desirable characteristics are added and undesirable 'components' are excluded. However, unlike machines they can reproduce and adapt in unpredictable ways in order to survive. At present synthetic biology is more speculation than reality, but especially the development of organisms for bioeconomy and agrofuel production, brings several topics together on which EcoNexus works, such as in the report Agriculture and Climate Change.

... or unregulated cottage industry?

The powerful interests involved in Synthetic Biology and its aspired use in economically important areas, require a close monitoring of its developments. Otherwise, we might find that commercial interests will drive it before decisions can be made about how to regulate them, their potential effects and further reaching consequences.
But even then synthetic biology will be difficult to regulate since rapidly reducing prices for basic technologies make resources easily available. This opens a completely different area of concerns, for example whe it becomes possible to build pathogens in simple labs that have already been dubbed garage synbio.

April 2011