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A Call to Ban Synthetic Biology

More than 100 environmental policy organizations call for greater oversight and regulation of synthetic biology.

By | March 15, 2012

Biofilm from the 2004 Synthetic Biology competition WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, JEFF TABOR AND RANDY RETTBERG

On Tuesday (March 12), the environmental activist organization Friends of the Earth called for a moratorium on the release of synthetic biology organisms or products into the environment. The call came from a report put together by 111 environmental organizations from around the world.

In 2010 the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethics  found that synthetic biology was still in its infancy and therefore posed few risks. While the Commission did release a list of 18 recommendations for the development and oversight of the field, many have yet to be completed, despite a 2012 deadline for some of the recommendations. Friends of the Earth, which calls synthetic biology “extreme genetic engineering,” prepared its report in response to the assertion that little or no government regulation was needed for this type of research.

A spokesperson for the Presidential Commission told ScienceInsider that it welcomes the new input from Friends of the Earth. But Brent Erickson from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) told ScienceInsider that the environmental organizations’ report lacked objectivity and a clear understanding of synthetic biology. "It's not like we don't have experience in dealing with those organisms," he said. "There are a lot of safeguards in place."

In response, The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, which has been tracking the government’s progress on the Commission’s recommendations, put out a call for public input, launching a survey that addresses the ethical, legal, and social implications of synthetic biology.

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Avatar of: Ed Rybicki

Ed Rybicki

Posts: 82

March 15, 2012

"a moratorium on the release of synthetic biology organisms or products into the environment...".  Really?  Do people actually understand what they mean by that?  That any gene that has been optimised for expression in a particular organism - like a vaccine antigen gene - could be affected?

Too much gut reaction, and not enough thinking: I can think of just a couple of organisms that might qualify, and they were either subject to such scrutiny OR were so innocuous, that I cannot think that they could create a problem - because it's not easy to make an organism.  In fact, apart from a couple of viruses, I can think of just one: Craig Venter's artificial Mycoplasma genitalium, and that was more a "Wow, look how smart we are!" exercise than anything truly innovative.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

March 15, 2012

"a moratorium on the release of synthetic biology organisms or products into the environment...".  Really?  Do people actually understand what they mean by that?  That any gene that has been optimised for expression in a particular organism - like a vaccine antigen gene - could be affected?

Too much gut reaction, and not enough thinking: I can think of just a couple of organisms that might qualify, and they were either subject to such scrutiny OR were so innocuous, that I cannot think that they could create a problem - because it's not easy to make an organism.  In fact, apart from a couple of viruses, I can think of just one: Craig Venter's artificial Mycoplasma genitalium, and that was more a "Wow, look how smart we are!" exercise than anything truly innovative.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

March 16, 2012

Ed, Craig Venter plans synthetic organisms designed to produce hydrocarbon fuels.
If the oceans started to bubble petrol " Wow look how smart we are " might be an understatement.
When the first algae began to produce oxygen it made the point about little things having unintended consequences.
Plasmids swapping oddball genetic material bring random unpredictable processes into play with our future at stake.
Could you humour the apprehensive gut reaction of a retired research chemist?

Avatar of: RonHorgan

RonHorgan

Posts: 8

March 16, 2012

Ed, Craig Venter plans synthetic organisms designed to produce hydrocarbon fuels.
If the oceans started to bubble petrol " Wow look how smart we are " might be an understatement.
When the first algae began to produce oxygen it made the point about little things having unintended consequences.
Plasmids swapping oddball genetic material bring random unpredictable processes into play with our future at stake.
Could you humour the apprehensive gut reaction of a retired research chemist?

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