Ethical Dilemmas in Synthetic Biology: a presentation by Annapolis Valley Quakers
Information and discussion open to all.
Wednesday September 4, 7-9 pm
NSCC Kingstec Campus, 236 Belcher St. Kentville Room C278
Google map: http://goo.gl/maps/2TJXg
For background info download this PDF document: www.bit.ly/SynthBioKit
Below is a brief extract from the document referenced above. For full details, read particularly section three of the above linked document.
The document includes extensive references and links to relevant web sites.
Synthetic Biology: What is it and what is the range of views about its role?
Synthetic biology is the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to create new biological systems and forms of life that do not exist in nature.
In 2011, a U.S.Presidential Commission defined synthetic biology as “an emerging field of research that combines elements of biology, engineering, genetics, chemistry, and computer science… [It relies] on chemically synthesized DNA [a building block of all living cells], along with standardized and automatable processes, to create new biochemical systems or organisms with novel or enhanced characteristics.”
Proponents of synthetic biology see its potential for developing new materials (e.g., a synthetic version of spider silk), foods (providing food in quantity in developing nations), medicines (e.g., production of an anti-malarial drug), energy sources (e.g. biofuels from algae), ways to remedy pollution (eg. detecting arsenic in water sources), and new means of computing. The military-industrial sector also sees potential weapons applications.
Those who are cautious about synthetic biology direct attention to what is absent in its development. They are concerned about what artificial organisms might do unexpectedly, since they have not yet existed in nature. They are concerned about the social justice aspects of synthetic biology: will the benefits of synthetic biology be distributed equitably among poor nations as well as wealthy ones? Will patenting of life forms lead to monopolistic control of benefits? Will large amounts of public funds be spent on unproven technology?
The Principles for the Oversight of Synthetic Biology, developed by a broad coalition of organizations from around the world (including the Biotechnology Reference Group of the Canadian Council of Churches) begins with:
Synthetic biology, an extreme form of genetic engineering, is developing rapidly with little oversight or regulation despite carrying vast uncertainty. To protect public health, worker safety and ecosystem resilience, it calls for risk research and development of alternatives, a robust pre-market regulatory regime, strong enforcement mechanisms, immediate action to prevent potential exposures until safety is demonstrated, ongoing monitoring for unintended consequences, immediate action to prevent potential exposures until safety is demonstrated…a ban on using synthetic biology to manipulate the human genome in any form, no commercialized or released (building blocks) without full disclosure to the public of the nature of the organism and results of safety testing, and … a moratorium on the release and commercial use of synthetic organisms and their products to prevent direct or indirect harm to people and the environment (until government bodies, international organizations and relevant parties implement strong precautionary and comprehensive oversight mechanisms).