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Synthetic Biology: The Risks of Treating Life as a Machine


October 30, 2014
The ETC Group & the Bioeconomies Media Project

It has been referred to as extreme genetic engineering and the new frontier of biotechnology. What is "SynBio", and how will it affect the food we eat and the world we inhabit? As thousands of scientists, students and vendors converge at the International Genetically Engineered Machines Jamboree in Boston to share the latest advancements in a multi-billion-dollar industry based on "industrializing life at the molecular level," ETC Group and the BMP are launching an education capping to challenge the "SynBio" industry.

Special to Environmentalists Against War



(October 29, 2014) -- It has been referred to as extreme genetic engineering and the new frontier of biotechnology. What is "SynBio", and how will it affect the food we eat and the farmers who provide it? This short video explains.

Synthetic Biology Explained:
The Risks of Treating Life as a Machine

ETC

MONTREAL (October 29, 2014) -- On the eve of the largest annual gathering of synthetic biologists in the world, ETC Group and the Bioeconomies Media Project are launching a new animated explanation of the workings of this emerging "SynBio" industry, often dubbed extreme genetic engineering.

Thousands of scientists, students and vendors will converge at the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) Jamboree in Boston to share the latest advancements in what has become a multi-billion-dollar industry based on the industrialization of life at the molecular level.

Increasingly, scientists and civil society are sounding the alarm about the risks posed by unregulated commercialization of SynBio’s untested, experimental and unprecedented manipulation of life forms. The new ten-minute video, produced in collaboration with award-winning Canadian animator Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre and narrated by ETC’s Jim Thomas, is the first output from a new Bioeconomies Media Project.

Featuring work of researchers from Canadian universities and funded by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the video provides a succinct introduction to the science and emerging industry of synthetic biology as well as some of the ethical, biosafety and economic impacts that these "genetically engineered machines" may have.

"The synthetic biology industry is already a multibillion dollar enterprise involving some of the worlds largest food, chemical and agribusiness companies," said Jim Thomas, ETC's Programme Director. "The leaders of that industry are targeting markets supplied by small farmers in the around the world; this is likely to have real negative impacts on poorer communities in the global south."

SynBio companies have commercialized several products already, including a vanilla substitute grown by synthetically modified yeast, a coconut oil replacement produced by engineered algae, and engineered versions of patchouli and vetiver fragrances.

Less than two weeks ago, 194 nations at the United Nations convention on Biological Diversity unanimously urged governments to establish precautionary regulations and to assess synthetic biology organisms, components and products. Many countries had called for a complete global moratorium on the release of synthetic biology organisms.

"Small farmers feed over 70% of the world; if SynBio companies cut into the tiny profits they are able to make, it could have a growing negative impact on the world's food supply," Thomas added. "Given how little we know about the potential effects of these highly novel life forms, there are also concerns about the risk of synthetic microorganisms escaping into the air and water."

The video released today features the work of Montreal-based animator Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre, who has dozens of film festival awards to her name, most recently for Best Short Documentary at the Saint Louis International Film Festival in 2012. Saint Pierre’s last animation was featured at the most recent Cannes International Film Festival.

"Since I started working on this video, I've learned that synthetic biology is quite dangerous, and without regulations it can have repercussions for workers and farmers," said Saint-Pierre. "It was important for me to make something that’s easy to understand, so that anyone can access information about SynBio and process it."

For information, please contact:
Jim Thomas, jim@etcgroup.org phone 1 514 516 5759
Dru Oja Jay, dru@etcgroup.org phone 1 438 930 4693
ETC Group (Montreal)
jim@etcgroup.org
+1 514 2739994





Synthetic Biology: Inventing the Future

(January 29, 2013) -- The hottest new field in biotech is synthetic biology: Scientists can now re-program life at the cellular level, just like a computer program. Syn-bio experts (also known as bio-hackers) are re-programming the DNA in viruses and creating novel life forms that can replicate and grow just like natural single cell organisms.

Joining Robert Tercek in the discussion are Andrew Hessel, Distinguished Research Scientist with the Bio/Nano Programmable Matter Group at Autodesk, and Dr. William Hurlbut, Physician and Consulting Professor at Stanford University.

Inventing the Future is a live news program featuring coming trends that will shape society. In today's world, success means knowing "What's Next After What's Next?" Lead by Robert Tercek, Inventing the Future offers insight into the future of the world after tomorrow.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

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