From: WIldlife Conservation Society
Published April 3, 2013 06:02 AM

Synthetic Biology

A new paper says a discussion on the benefits and risks of synthetic biology to conservation is necessary.
The potential exists to re-creating extinct species and to create genetically modified super-species.

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An upcoming conference at Clare College in Cambridge, England, will examine the nexus of synthetic biology and conservation

What effects will the rapidly growing field of synthetic biology have on the conservation of nature? The ecological and ethical challenges stemming from this question will require a new and continuing dialogue between members of the synthetic biology and biodiversity conservation communities, according to authors of a new paper.

According to the paper, the field of synthetic biology—a discipline that utilizes chemically synthesized DNA to create organisms that address human needs—is developing rapidly, with billions of dollars being invested annually. Many extol the virtues of synthetic biology as providing potential solutions to human health problems, food security, and energy needs. Advocates also see in synthetic biology tools for combating climate change and water deficits. Critics warn that genetically modified organisms could pose a danger to native species and natural ecosystems.

The paper's authors assert that, in any scenario, a dialogue on how to use and restrict synthetic biology methods and products must be initiated for the benefit of the world’s societies and decision makers.

The authors of the essay—published in the online journal PLOS Biology—include: Kent Redford of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Archipelago Consulting; Bill Adams of the University of Cambridge; and Georgina M. Mace of University College London (UCL).

"At present, the synthetic biology and conservation communities are largely strangers to one another, even though they both share many of the same concerns and goals," said Kent Redford, lead author of the article. "An open discussion between the two communities is needed to help identify areas of collaboration on a topic that will likely change the relationship of humans with the natural world."

Rendering of Wooly Mammoth via Shutterstock.

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