Dossier: Synthetic Biology

Dossier: Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology (or Syn Bio) describes a set of new genetic techniques for designing and engineering lifeforms for industrial purposes. As an 'extreme' form of genetic engineering, Syn Bio not only isolates natural genes and inserts them into organisms but also creates new genetic codes. So far, there is neither a public debate worth mentioning nor any regulation by law.

Our dossier looks at the risks Synthetic Biology poses for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

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At this year's World Conversation Congress in Hawai'i ethical and social concerns about the use of a controversial synthetic biology technology were raised: gene drives. This genetic engineering technique has the ability to change the world we know.

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The gene-drive technology is supposed to enable deliberate extinctions of “pest” species, in order to save “favored” species and stop the global biodiversity loss. The risks are obvious - and the existing regulatory framework is absolutely unsuitable.

Green Living

A “green transition” is not a distant proposition, it is a reality: Alternative energy sources are replacing coal, oil, and gas; in our cities the car is loosing some of its former status; and, globally, environmental technologies are booming. Technological innovation and a new, sustainable lifestyle are two sides of the same coin. Things have been set on the right track, yet we have to speed up developments in order to win the race against a total environmental disaster.

Events

With this open letter, 30 international conservation and environmental leaders demand that “gene drives should not be promoted as conservation tools.” The letter was also signed by Barbara Unmüßig of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

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At the moment regulations for the trade with genetic material help to safeguard the rights of providers of genetic resources. This could change with the use of digital gene sequences.

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At Rio+20, the concept of the "green economy" focuses on industrial production from biomass as one way to overcome fossil fuel dependency. The push for a bio-based economy comes with a call for market-based mechanisms for the financialization of the Earth’s natural processes, re-branded as ‘ecosystem services’, which also encourage land and water grabs. 
Gene drives have not been tested for unintended consequences, nor fully evaluated for ethical and social impacts.
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Las Vegas seems to be an apt place to launch a risky corporate gamble that could destroy the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers.

Publications

Imagine that by releasing a single fly into the wild you could genetically alter all the flies on the planet. This is the terrifyingly powerful premise behind gene drives: a new and controversial genetic engineering technology that can permanently alter an entire species by releasing one bioengineered individual. Civil society groups are alarmed by this newfound ability to reshape the natural world.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will hold its 13th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Mexico in December 2016. This briefing explains why synthetic biology is threatening all objectives of the CBD unless the parties act on five key issues.

Many of the world's largest agro-industrial corporations are pushing forward the poorly-defined idea of "Climate-Smart Agriculture"(CSA) to re-market industrial agriculture as 'climate-ready'. This report uncovers how some advocates of CSA are embracing the extreme genetic engineering tools of synthetic biology ("Syn Bio") to develop a set of false solutions to the climate crisis.

The extreme genetic engineering industry of Synthetic Biology (Syn Bio) is shrugging off earlier pretensions that it would usher in a clean, green ’post-petroleum’ economy. Now they are partnering with big oil, coal, gas and mining interests. This report details this emerging fossilbiotech alliance.

For your further reading

Creator: Ines Meier. Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

How did forests become ‚natural capital‘? Our web dossier illustrates what the concept of the „New Economy of Nature“ stands for and explains nature’s role in the Green Economy and why this approach has been of increased interest to economy and politics recently.

Green Economy. Creator: zack Mccarthy . Creative Commons License LogoThis image is licensed under Creative Commons License.

The economic and ecological bases of a general prosperity are in danger. The Green Economy offers a model, based primarily on large-scale technological innovation. A solution if it results in even more consumption?

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The attempt to connect environmental and economic objectives turn out more difficult than expected. The green transformation must be seen as a political task.

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There is an all-enclosing commons-economy which has been successful for billions of years: The biosphere is neither efficient nor does it know property. Nature embodies the commons paradigm par excellence and can therefore provide us with a powerful methodology of the commons as a natural and social ecology.