Feeds

Green groups sound alarm on synthetic biology

Life 2.0 faces critics

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

A coalition of environmentalists, ethics watchdogs and trade unions has told synthetic biologists they threaten humanity and the planet by "tinkering" with the fundamentals of life.

The criticism is timed to coincide with a meeting of scientists working in the emerging discipline, which is aiming to lay down ground rules for self-regulation.

Synthetic biology offers the possibility of brand new microbial life forms being created from scratch for a host of applications - benign and otherwise. In 2002, a team was successful in building a functioning polio virus in the lab from molecular raw materials.

Proponents say the potential benefits from synthetic lifeforms outweigh the risks. The Synthetic Biology 2.0 conference in Berkley will end today with delegates signing a set of "community-wide declarations" to provide an ethical framework for scientists to work to.

In an open letter, however, groups including Greenpeace and the Soil Association say the field needs to be reined-in from outside.

Dr Sue Mayer, director of bioethics pressure group GeneWatch UK, said: "Scientists creating new life forms cannot be allowed to act as judge and jury. The possible social, environmental and bio-weapons implications are all too serious to be left to well-meaning but self-interested scientists."

Genome maverick Craig Venter's Synthetic Genomics is in the vanguard of firms hoping to commercially exploit the technology. Some fear the techniques developed could easily be applied to waging biowarfare by recreating devastating epidemics like smallpox, or even synthesising bespoke illnesses against particular ethnic groups.

Alex Vlandas of International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility urged the conference: "We scientists must come to terms with the fact that science can no longer claim to be living in an abstract realm disconnected from the rest of society."

Scientists in the field say they welcome debate. Their motion is a first step toward proper legal monitoring. Signatories to the open letter, however, argue that the move will deflect any attempts at outside intervention in the future.

A similar era-defining science and ethics meeting at Asilomar in 1975 has been called the "Woodstock of molecular biology". Some say failings of the self-regulation model that emerged from that meeting led to the genetic modification firestorm of the 90s.®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
TRIANGULAR orbits will help Rosetta to get up close with Comet 67P
Probe will be just 10km from Space Duck in October
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
ANU boffins demo 'tractor beam' in water
The current state of the art, apparently
China to test recoverable moon orbiter
I'll have some rocks and a moon cheese pizza please, home delivery
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
Why your mum was WRONG about whiffy tattooed people
They're a future source of RENEWABLE ENERGY
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.