Info Service on Biodiversity and Traditional Knowledge (Jun18/01)
Informational materials on synthetic biology and sequence information
We are pleased to highlight the publication of new informational materials about the important emerging area of synthetic biology and associated topic of digital sequence information on genetic resources. Both issues will be under discussion at SBSTTA 22 (2-7 July 2018) and COP 14 (17-29 November 2018) of the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Synthetic biology is defined by an expert group of the Convention on Biological Diversity as “a further development and new dimension of modern biotechnology that combines science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the understanding, design, redesign, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials, living organisms and biological systems.”
New technological approaches such as genome editing and rapid DNA synthesis are being commercially applied with significant economic disruption expected, especially on the economies, livelihoods and biodiversity of countries in the Global South. Biosynthesis of natural product replacements (e.g. artificially synthesizing compounds usually sourced from tropical agricultural commodities such as sweeteners, oils, flavours and fragrances) may upturn bio-trade, biodiversity-based livelihoods and threaten the resilience of small-scale farmers and gatherers and the biodiversity they support. The ability to digitize genetic sequences and remake them through DNA synthesis and editing, without physically accessing genetic resources, potentially evades existing access and benefit sharing arrangements and may undermine equitable sharing of benefits. Meanwhile, the invention of new technologies such as gene drives that aggressively spread an engineered trait in the wild will change and challenge conservation strategies.
In light of the important discussions due to take place under the Convention, the purpose of this packet of informational documents is to assist delegates to the CBD by outlining some of the potential impacts of synthetic biology on biodiversity, the potential socioeconomic impacts and risks to national sovereignty or economies.
These materials were produced as a collaborative effort between the African Centre for Biodiversity, ETC Group and Third World Network, under the Building International Capacity in Synthetic Biology Assessment and Governance (BISCBAG) Project. These materials and additional materials are available at www.synbiogovernance.org. Spanish, French and Portuguese translations of key reports will also be forthcoming.