ETC Group Report on Extreme Genetic Engineering

Posted by Jesse Reynolds January 31, 2007
Biopolitical Times
Our friends at the ETC Group recently released an informative report on the rapidly emerging field of synthetic biology. The potential for misuse of "SynBio" is great, yet oversight is nonexistent and media coverage is generally fawning. (For example, see the article in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly, subscription required.)

From the summary of "Extreme Genetic Engineering: An Introduction to Synthetic Biology":
Today, scientists aren't just mapping genomes and manipulating genes, they're building life from scratch - and they're doing it in the absence of societal debate and regulatory oversight. Dubbed "genetic engineering on steroids," the social, environmental and bio-weapons threats of synthetic biology surpass the possible dangers and abuses of biotech....

A clutch of entrepreneurial scientists... is setting up synthetic biology companies backed by government funding and venture capital....

Like biotech, the power to make synthetic life could be concentrated in the hands of major multinational firms....

Widespread debate on the social, economic and ethical implications of synbio must come first. Debate must not be limited to biosecurity (bioweapons/bioterrorism) and biosafety (worker safety and environment). The tools for synthesizing genes and genomes are widely accessible and advancing at break-neck pace. It is not adequate to regulate synthetic biology on the national level. Decisions must be considered in a global context, with broad participation from civil society and social movements.

The ETC Group highlights the impact that powerful emerging technologies are likely to have on the world's poor, especially in the "global south." As noted in a recent piece in Salon, "Quite simply, they put out great reports." Their work is important, and this report is no exception.