Synthetic biology: the latest assault on agriculture

The latest assault on agriculture: synthetic biology and the new GM breeding technologies (NBTs) 

Each time a new technology emerges that seems to offer advantages to both the business and scientific communities, the UK government tends to embrace it uncritically. We offer this session so that people can find out about synthetic biology and NBTs, and discuss what they mean for agriculture, food and farming. 

Synthetic Biology (sometimes called extreme genetic engineering) involves suggested applications ranging from ‘feeding the world’ to addressing climate change. As someone in the UK Synthetic Biology Leadership Council, set up to promote the technology, wrote: ‘Areas expected to benefit include pharmaceuticals, diagnostic devices, vaccines, high value industrial chemicals, next generation biofuels, and new and better crops.’ 

We are also seeing the rapid emergence of new breeding technologies (NBTs), many of which are in fact gene and genome ‘editing’ techniques (eg: CRISPR), part of a new generation of genetic engineering technologies that claim to be more precise. Some are also cheaper and easier to apply than standard genetic engineering techniques.

EcoNexus and others believe that all these new technologies should come under current GMO regulation in the EU. But commercial interests are working hard to support the claim that they fall outside the EU definition of a GMO and do not need to be regulated at all – which would mean no risk assessments, no labelling, no public participation. 2016 will be a critical year in the EU and other regions in the world to push for comprehensive regulation. It will also be critical for developing international guidance to control these new technologies, especially at the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is therefore important to be aware of both the technologies and commercial strategies being used to avoid regulation.


Audio recording:

Speaker presentation slides:

Helena Paul (Econexus) – The drivers of synthetic biology

Dr Ricarda Steinbrecher (Econexus) – New breeding technologies: GM and genome editing



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.