The "New Bioeconomy": Synthetic Biology's Implications for the Environment, Health and Justice

For this blog, I’m highlighting two expert colleagues with presentations on the applications and implications of synthetic biology. The following comes from their presentations:

Synthetic biology, or “extreme genetic engineering”, is being marketed as the next industrial revolution to sustainably produce everything from bioplastics to biofuels, and even the next wave of genetically engineered crops. Despite these promises, synthetic biology poses many risks to the environment, human health, communities from Berkeley to Brazil and social justice and remains largely unregulated.

Where traditional genetic engineering involves moving one or several genes from one organism to another, synthetic biology involves writing new genetic code and biological “circuits”.

Are we ready? Well, ready or not, here it comes….

“Imagine a world in which there are “ready to burn” liquid fuels produced directly from CO2, biodegradable plastics made not from oil but from renewable biomass, tailored food products to meet specialized dietary needs...Tomorrow’s bioeconomy relies on the expansion of emerging technologies such as synthetic biology… as well as new technologies as yet unimagined.”

– White House National White House Bioeconomy Blueprint, April 2012

Gopal Dayaneni, of the Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project, has worked for social, economic, and environmental justice through organizing & campaigning, teaching, writing, and speaking since the late 1980′s.

Eric Hoffman, a food and technology policy campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S., focuses on protecting people and the environment from emerging genetic technologies such as ownership and control of human genes, human genetic engineering, animal cloning, animal genetic engineering and synthetic biology.

Learn more about this transformative technology from these resources:

The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology. Friends of the Earth, 2012. Report here.

Wright, Oliver, Guy Bart Stan, and Tom Ellis. "Building-in Biosafety for Synthetic Biology." Microbiology .21 Mar. 2013.

Rodemeyer, M. New Life, Old Bottles, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, March 2009.

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Synthetic Biology Project. 2010. Trends In Synthetic Biology Research Funding In The United States And Europe.

Dana, Genya V., Todd Kuiken, David Rejeski, and Allison A. Snow. "Four Steps to Avoid a Synthetic-biology Disaster." Nature 483 (2012): 29

About the Authors

Jennifer Sass

Senior Scientist, Federal Toxics, Health and Food, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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