Support the IEET




The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States. Please give as you are able, and help support our work for a brighter future.



Search the IEET
Subscribe and Contribute to:


Technoprogressive? BioConservative? Huh?
Quick overview of biopolitical points of view




whats new at ieet

Bitcoin and Science: DNA is the Original Decentralized System

Summa Technologiae, Or Why The Trouble With Science Is Religion

Technoprogressive Declaration - Transvision 2014

Transhumanism: A Glimpse into the Future of Humanity

Brain, Mind, and the Structure of Reality

How America’s Obsession With Bad Birth Control Hurts and Even Kills Women


ieet books

Virtually Human: The Promise—-and the Peril—-of Digital Immortality
Author
Martine Rothblatt


comments

instamatic on 'Pastor-Turned-Atheist Coaches Secular Church Start-Ups' (Nov 24, 2014)

CygnusX1 on 'Summa Technologiae, Or Why The Trouble With Science Is Religion' (Nov 24, 2014)

Rick Searle on 'Summa Technologiae, Or Why The Trouble With Science Is Religion' (Nov 24, 2014)

CygnusX1 on 'Summa Technologiae, Or Why The Trouble With Science Is Religion' (Nov 24, 2014)

Leah Carr on 'Technoprogressive Declaration - Transvision 2014' (Nov 23, 2014)

David Wood on 'Technoprogressive Declaration - Transvision 2014' (Nov 23, 2014)

Rick Searle on 'Summa Technologiae, Or Why The Trouble With Science Is Religion' (Nov 23, 2014)







Subscribe to IEET News Lists

Daily News Feed

Longevity Dividend List

Catastrophic Risks List

Biopolitics of Popular Culture List

Technoprogressive List

Trans-Spirit List



JET

Enframing the Flesh: Heidegger, Transhumanism, and the Body as “Standing Reserve”

Moral Enhancement and Political Realism

Intelligent Technologies and Lost Life

Hottest Articles of the Last Month


Why Running Simulations May Mean the End is Near
Nov 3, 2014
(20808) Hits
(15) Comments

Does Religion Cause More Harm than Good? Brits Say Yes. Here’s Why They May be Right.
Nov 18, 2014
(19357) Hits
(1) Comments

2040’s America will be like 1840’s Britain, with robots?
Oct 26, 2014
(14561) Hits
(33) Comments

Decentralized Money: Bitcoin 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0
Nov 10, 2014
(8659) Hits
(1) Comments



IEET > Security > Biosecurity > Rights > Life > Innovation > Vision > Bioculture > Technoprogressivism > Contributors > Andrew Maynard

Print Email permalink (0) Comments (2292) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


Do we need a better definition for synthetic biology?


Andrew Maynard
By Andrew Maynard
2020 Science

Posted: Jul 16, 2014

Jim Thomas of the ETC Group has just posted a well reasoned article on the Guardian website  on the challenges of defining the the emerging technology of “synthetic biology”.  The article is the latest in a series of exchanges addressing the potential risks of the technology and its effective regulation.

Alleged use of synthetic biology challenged

At the end of May, the New York Times published a piece on the Belgian company Ecover – a household cleaning and personal care products company that’s heavily focused on sustainability – that highlighted the company’s decision to move from using palm oil to an algal oil allegedly derived from synthetic biology.  In response, 17 groups publicly petitioned Ecover to reconsider their decision to use a synthetic biology-derived product.  Led by the ETC Group and including signatories from groups such as Consumers Union and Friends of the Earth, the open letter claimed that a combination of unknown risks, the lack of a synthetic biology-specific regulatory framework, social justice challenges with their Briazilian-sourced sugar cane feedstock, and the available of alternative oil sources, brought into question the appropriateness of  Ecover’s decision.

Counter arguments

In response, on June 27th Ecover challenged a number of the claims in the open letter, while committing to a fact-based dialogue on their use of specific technologies.

They also challenged the allegation that they are using a product based on synthetic biology, noting that

The genetic modification process used by the supplier of our algal oil employs the natural mutation process of algae and standard industrial fermentation. Our supplier uses microalgae strains that have been in existence longer than we have, and they work within their natural oil producing pathways using decades-old molecular biology techniques to produce algal oil.

And this is where Jim Thomas in his Guardian article questions whether companies are beginning to play around with definitions to exploit new DNA-based technologies, while avoiding unwanted public scrutiny and regulatory attention.

To define or not to define

The discussion mirrors those that have plagued other areas like nanotechnology for several years.  Here, I’ve been quite vocal against  becoming tramlined by definitions of engineered nanomaterials that potentially obscure serious health and environmental challenges from materials that don’t quite fit the mould, but nevertheless present new risk challenges.  In principle, it should be easier to define synthetic biology in ways that make sense from a regulatory perspective, as the domain of engineering and design is much narrower than nanotechnology.  But there are still a number of glaring challenges in my mind, including:

Can definitions be developed that are truly effective in both protecting people and the environment while empowering responsible innovation?

Is it possible to avoid the debate over regulatory definitions being hijacked by interests that are not related to direct health and environmental impacts?  And

If a broadly accepted working definition for regulatory purposes  is developed,  who will be evaluating the risks of those organisms and products that slip through the net, yet may still represent significant concerns?

Hopefully, the emerging dialogue will address these in a responsive, inclusive and evidence-based manner.  In the meantime, companies that previously claimed to be using synthetic biology are going dark, and that cannot be helpful in the long run to ensuring the technology’s responsible development.


More Information

Note: a useful analysis on synthetic biology and regulation was recently published by the J. Craig Venter Institute:

SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY AND THE U.S. BIOTECHNOLOGY REGULATORY SYSTEM: Challenges and Options. May 2014


Andrew Maynard is Director of the Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Print Email permalink (0) Comments (2293) Hits •  subscribe Share on facebook Stumble This submit to reddit submit to digg


COMMENTS


YOUR COMMENT (IEET's comment policy)

Login or Register to post a comment.

Next entry: Cyborg Buddha

Previous entry: Widerquist on Freedom and the Basic Income

HOME | ABOUT | FELLOWS | STAFF | EVENTS | SUPPORT  | CONTACT US
SECURING THE FUTURE | LONGER HEALTHIER LIFE | RIGHTS OF THE PERSON | ENVISIONING THE FUTURE
CYBORG BUDDHA PROJECT | AFRICAN FUTURES PROJECT | JOURNAL OF EVOLUTION AND TECHNOLOGY

RSSIEET Blog | email list | newsletter |
The IEET is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization registered in the State of Connecticut in the United States.

Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
56 Daleville School Rd., Willington CT 06279 USA 
Email: director @ ieet.org     phone: 860-297-2376